As the overprotective mother of Josh, my only child, I didn’t share his enthusiasm when he got his driver’s license. Parents and guardians do everything they can to prepare new drivers for the realities of the road…but, sometimes, the worst still manages to happen.
Car crashes are the number one killer of teens in America. Sadly, the main reason behind teen car crash fatalities is failure to use a seat belt – a completely preventable cause. Another deadly mistake? Being distracted. Sadly, nearly 80 percent of all driver crashes involve some form of inattention.
My son Josh became part of that statistic last summer when he took his eyes off the road to change the radio station. A crash like this can happen in an instant, and distraction lasting even a few seconds can change lives forever. It certainly changed ours.
Still, we were fortunate that Josh—not a police officer—was able to call and let us know there had been an accident. I felt lucky knowing that even though the car was flipped and totaled, he was okay.
What I learned
As unfortunate as this experience was, it did teach me a few important things.
Crash test ratings matter. Turns out one of the best things we did for Josh was research car safety ratings. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a great resource: It rates vehicles as good, acceptable, marginal or poor based on performance in five crash tests.
Our 2010 Dodge Journey—the vehicle Josh was driving when the crash occurred—probably helped save his life being that it earned the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick award. When it came time to replace the totaled car, we purchased a newer version of the same vehicle.
Seatbelts—and stories—save lives. Josh was thankfully strapped in when the crash happened. I believe persistent lectures about the importance of buckling up from a mom who works for an insurance company made a difference. Something else also made an impression.
Not long ago, one of Josh’s swim team members tragically died after being ejected from a vehicle driven by an inexperienced driver. The young girl might have lived had she been wearing a seat belt.
That real-life example stayed with Josh and reminded him that our warnings weren’t just words from overprotective parents.
Today, the girl’s parents work to educate other students about the importance of wearing seatbelts. I encourage you to share our story and photos with any teen drivers in your life just as they are sharing theirs. Perhaps Josh’s story can make the same difference for your teen as his teammate’s story did for him.
Other tips to protect your teen driver
Here are some more tried-and-true tips for keeping teens safe behind the wheel.
- Insist on practicing together. Your state already requires a certain number of hours behind the wheel with a licensed adult, but it’s worth it to put in some extra practice time.
- Set a good example. Kids learn more from what you do than what you say, so buckle up, put down the phone and follow the speed limit.
- Talk to your teen. Sure, he or she might roll their eyes and pretend to not hear you. But don’t let that keep you from talking about the dangers of distraction and the importance of seat belts.
- Visit JoinTheShift.org. This page has information about ERIE’s safe teen driving program, a link to a safe driver pledge and even more teen driving tips and resources.
- Visit your ERIE Insurance Agent. Ask your ERIE Agent to meet with your young driver before adding him or her to the family policy. Your Agent can share stories and advice that your teen may be more likely to heed since the message isn’t coming from you.