The Medical Minute: Parents are the key to safer teen drivers

Parents of teen drivers often wonder what the deciding factor is to successfully teaching their child to be a safe driver.

The answer is ... they are.

According to Beverly Shirk, pediatric trauma care coordinator at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, parents who exemplify safe driving habits produce the most successful drivers.

“It starts the moment you turn the car seat around,” she said.

Shirk, also a part of the Teen Driver Awareness Program at the Children’s Hospital, shared additional tips to encourage safe driving habits to coincide with Teen Driver Safety Week this week.

Enforce the law

-- Pennsylvania law states that underage drivers may not drive past 11 p.m. (or before 5 a.m.), and parents should enforce that curfew and not allow their teens to drive after hours.

-- Only a certain number of passengers may be in the car depending on the situation. Shirk says parents should establish and enforce rules regarding who may be in the car and how many passengers are allowed at one.

-- All passengers must wear seat belts.

-- Make sure your teen understands the consequences of underage drinking or taking drugs and driving. About 20 percent of the teen driving accidents seen at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center since January have been the result of driving under the influence, Shirk said.

Make sure teen drivers know where they're going

Review directions ahead of time, whenever necessary. Knowing the directions before the driver gets in the car will prevent the distraction of a GPS or map.

Know the condition of the car

“It’s not just about putting gas in it,” Shirk said. The tires should be checked regularly and the engine maintained to prevent mechanical failure that could lead to a crash.

Parents are responsible for repairs and addressing any issues as well, she said

Establish good communication

Shirk said the best thing parents can do is stay calm and be available. Teens will not want to tell you if they had a near miss or if something happened if they know you're going to overreact. Parents should not to judge, but listen and give good advice.

“Talk to your kids to let them know that they can call you any time, any day and you will come and get them no questions asked, no lectures,” she said. “It’s better than getting the phone call from the hospital or the police that your teen was involved in a crash or worse.”

Already had an accident?

After an accident, a teen driver will eventually need to get back on the road. Shirk suggests that parents get in the car and drive with their child again or ask someone their child will trust and feel comfortable with, like a driving instructor. Teens need to rebuild their confidence and feel comfortable with their own skills.

If an accident ends up in court, a judge could mandate participation in the Teen Driver Awareness Program at the Children's Hospital. A parent may also encourage their teen to attend even if it’s not required. The next session will be held from 8 p.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 16. Parents are welcome but not required to stay for the class. Anyone is welcome, but class size is limited. Call 717-531-3885 to register.

For more information on teen driver laws and safety, visit http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/teenDriversCenter/newTeenDriversLaw.shtml or http://www.cdc.gov/PARENTSARETHEKEY/.

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature brought to you by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of Penn State Hershey faculty physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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Last Updated November 07, 2013