North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Helping teen drivers stay safe this summer


We are entering the 2013 summer season, a time when teen drivers and their friends will be on the road more than any other time in the year. With the extended daylight hours and the break from school, teens have more opportunity to be on the road unsupervised than at any other point in the year. This “freedom” can be an amazing opportunity for your teen to earn your trust and demonstrate their maturity and responsibility. However, as parents we must also realize that such a great opportunity also comes with great risks if the wrong choices are made are made.

Teen crash statistics increase during the summer months when teens are out of school. This makes sense because young drivers have more opportunities to get behind the wheel of cars. Teens are no longer limited to driving just during weekends or after school hours. During the hours they would normally be attending school, they are now able to be out running errands, driving to work, or visiting friends’ houses. With the increased driving hours, the teens are also at a higher chance of being involved in a collision. Teens are particularly likely to be involved in single-car “run off the road” collisions and rear-end collisions, and about 40 percent of fatal teen collisions occur after 9 p.m. Unfortunately, teens are also at greater risk of being injured than adults in collisions. Teen-involved collisions often times involve high speeds, inexperience, peer pressure, and even sometimes alcohol or drug usage. Teens have greater freedom from restrictions such as curfews, less parental supervision, greater access to drugs and alcohol, and more freedom to associate with friends during the evening hours, which are all considered to be serious risk factors for teen drivers.

So, as parents, we first need to accept that we simply cannot be next to our teens at all points during their life to safeguard them. By handing them the keys to the vehicle, you have entrusted them with an adult responsibility and you have also placed your trust they will make good choices. That said, as parents we are not powerless in this situation, and with a little extra involvement and guidance we can help reduce risks and create a more controlled driving experience for them.

A good place to start is to create a “Teen Driving Contract.” Examples of these can be found on the Internet, and even on most major insurance company websites. Some research suggests creating such a contract can reduce your teenager’s driving risks by half. This will also help you to inform your teen of the risks and warning signs to look for, while also reminding them to make decisions that show respect for themselves, their friends, and the community. Educating them on your expectations and the potential consequences of not following your rules and expectations is an important step, and will set the foundation for your “Teen Driving Contract.”

Your list of expectations should include generally demonstrating good judgment, absolutely no cell phone usage while driving, staying away from all drugs and alcohol usage, reasonable curfew times, restrictions for number of passengers and friends in the vehicle, and rules specifically related to when and where the vehicle can be driven. When we consider that more teens are killed in car crashes every year than any other manner, the focus becomes crystal clear that encouraging safe driving habits, establishing strict rules and expectations, and limiting risky behavior is critical to keeping our young drivers safe this summer.

The good news for many parents is that the State of Washington has created some of the best guidelines in the nation for us to follow. The “Intermediate Driver License (IDL)” laws set forth some very strict rules for our new teen drivers. The IDL, if understood and properly enforced by parents, can be an extremely effective tool when you combine it with a “Teen Driving Contract.” The IDL is generally in effect for a minimum of one year for drivers under the age of 18, and it grants more privileges the longer they go without tickets, collisions, or other violations. The first six months of the IDL restricts having fellow teen passengers in the car, and prohibits driving between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. I encourage you to review the IDL information at the Department of Licensing website ( There you will find that the guidelines and restrictions set forth in the IDL are a great foundation for you to create your own “Teen Driving Contract.”

Also, I would encourage you to share and discuss the IDL laws and your “Teen Driving Contract” with other parents so you all understand the laws and expectations. The more understanding we have about the risks and dangers facing our teen drivers, the better we can work together to prepare and plan as parents and create the safest conditions for our teens this summertime.

Hope you all have a safe and enjoyable summer. And drive safe!


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