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Car crashes continue as leading teen killer          Send a link to a friend

Parents can help prevent accidents

[FEB. 11, 2006]  DUNDAS, Ontario -- Whenever a person gets behind the wheel of a car, the process of risk assessment begins. This is why drivers look behind before backing up or look both ways before entering the roadway. The driver is determining issues of risk before taking action.

Often, the driver is also trying to determine how much risk he or she can get away with. If the speed limit is 50, the driver may be thinking about going 55, or 60, or more. The experienced driver considers the choices and the likely consequences of each choice. The process may be virtually instantaneous, based upon the amount of prior driving experience.

Parents have driven much more than their new teen drivers. Adults typically have driven in all seasons and in all driving conditions and on all kinds of roadways. Parents are keenly aware of collisions and their aftermath from personal experience or through the experience of family or friends. Parents base their risk assessment and driving decisions on many years of these experiences. This is totally unlike a new teen driver, though.

Of concern about the teen driver is lack of judgment. This means that teens do not have the same depth of experience on which to base their risk assessment as older more mature and experienced drivers have. Hence teens may make poor decisions. Further, emotions and impulsive thinking can override careful consideration of behavior and impair judgment.

Lack of experience and lesser judgment are not often recognized by teens. They cannot see what they never had or are yet to develop. They cannot appreciate their lack of experience and as such will argue that they are fully capable of assessing risk as capably as older adults.

Teens have a marvelous capacity for language. They have just spent the past several years in high school and in elementary school before that. Some teens convince their parents that they do know more than their direct experience could possibly have taught.

Some parents think that because they trust their teen or because their teen is generally good or because the teen is convincing that their teen will exercise good judgment in the use of the car. However, parents are cautioned to remember that their teen's judgment just doesn't have the wealth of experience to back it up. No matter how good or well-meaning teens are, they simply are not fully equipped for the responsibility and management of a motor vehicle under all circumstance. The issue therefore is not trust, but again experience and maturity, the basis of sound judgment.

This is well-known to insurance companies. Insurance companies do not consider young people experienced until about age 25, because as a group, crash statistics show that this is the age when crash risks start to significantly decline.

Insurers also know that the first year of driving remains the most risk-filled point in a young person's life. Teen driver car crashes are the leading cause of permanent injury and death in teens, and the first year of driving is the most dangerous. Each year in the United States more than 5,000 teens lose their lives in motor vehicle crashes and another 400,000 suffer injuries. Canada has proportional numbers, as does virtually every industrialized nation.

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Parents must talk with their teens to set limits and determine responsibilities, expectations and restrictions on the use of the car. Parents do know better, and it's not until the teens reach about age 25 that they will truly understand or appreciate the actions taken by parents. Hence parents must withstand any backlash.

To reduce risk, parents can restrict the number of passengers allowed in the vehicle, insist that their teen buckle up and do so themselves. If a teen intends to be out after midnight, parents should continue to do the driving. Crash statistics show that the hours between midnight and 5 a.m. have the greatest number of crashes and deaths from teen driver motor vehicle collisions. Clearly it is better to lose some sleep than pick one's teen up at the hospital or morgue. Parents can also discuss the use of the radio or car stereo. Turn the radio on and discuss an acceptable limit for the volume.

Lastly, don't let the tail wag the dog. Remember, it's your car, your rules. Responsibility as a parent is for the safety of the child until the child is truly independent.

To help parents discuss driving responsibilities and expectations, there is a free Parent-Youth Safe Driving Contract from the I Promise Program, a teen safe-driving initiative.

Parents are the path to the keys. Make the safe-driving contract a step along the way.

Go to

[Gary Direnfeld, I Promise Program executive director]

For more information:

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Gary Direnfeld, M.S.W., R.S.W., is a social worker and expert on matters of family life. He is in private practice with Interaction Consultants, writes and provides workshops, and is the developer of the I Promise Program teen safe-driving initiative.

Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider Direnfeld an expert on child development, parent-child relations, marital and family therapy, custody and access recommendations, social work, and an expert for the purpose of giving a critique on a Section 112 social work report. His opinion helps resolve child custody and access matters.

Direnfeld's services include counseling, mediation, assessments, assessment critiques and workshops. Search his name on to view his many articles or go directly to his website,, where you can see his qualifications, read his many articles and view video clips of his many television appearances.


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