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

By Peter Barrett
Safety First 

Minimize teen driving risks this summer


As we head into the summer of 2014, I am focusing my thoughts on our teen drivers and their summer break.

In the summer months, I regularly have contact with two types of teen drivers. The first group of teens include those who are learning to drive at 911 Driving School when I am teaching them as their driving school instructor. The second group includes those teen drivers who are fully licensed, and with whom I come into contact while I am on patrol as a police officer. Contrary to what many people would assume, it is actually the fully licensed teen driver that I worry most about during the summer break.

The teen drivers I meet in class are at the very beginning of their driving career, and they have an eagerness and willingness to learn. They are often aware of the fact that driving is a complex and difficult skill to learn, and they respect the process enough to really engage and take our instruction seriously. Further, we know that because they are learning from an off-duty police officer, they are in a highly controlled and very safe environment. Those contacts and experiences with the learning-to-drive teenager are very positive for both the student and our instructors.

In contrast, often times the most concerning and worrisome contact I have with teenage drivers in the summer time is when I am on patrol as a police officer. It is in these times that we are often interacting with teenagers, most commonly after they have made a serious driving error that results in a traffic ticket being issued, or worse, if their actions resulted in a collision.

It is natural for anyone, especially a teenager, to enjoy a sense of freedom and accomplishment after they have achieved something as special as getting a driver’s license. Sometimes though, it is that split second of over-confidence or inattention that leads to collisions and tickets. I am hoping that in the next couple of paragraphs I can provide you with some ideas to minimize those risks, maximize safe driving principles, and hopefully eliminate any chance of a collision or ticket this summer.

Like every summer, this one will have a lot more daylight hours for teenagers to get out and drive on their own, without the supervision or oversight of their parents. Without school hours or school-related sports to soak up their time, it is common for us to see a significant increase of young drivers of all skill levels and experience out on the roadways. Naturally, the increase in greater numbers of teen drivers on the roadway also leads to an increase in the number of teen-involved traffic collisions my peers and I will be responding to. It is important to remember that--even after your teenager completes driving school, gets their 50 hours of driving practice, and receives their license--the learning process and teaching process is still occurring with them. We know that teenagers grow and learn at varying rates, and some are more skilled and capable than others when it comes to driving a vehicle. Further, teenagers mature at varying rates and some display better judgment and decision-making ability than others. That said, it’s important to understand that all teenagers—collectively--are at greater risk of tickets, crashes, and lapses in judgment than any other group of drivers on the roadways.

If we remember this, we as parents and role models for those teenagers can put in place rules and expectations this summer that help keep our young drivers safe during the summer. I firmly believe that teenagers need an opportunity to get out there and drive and to establish with their parents that they can be trustworthy and responsible with a vehicle, but I also firmly believe that they need to do so with clear rules, guidelines, and expectations from their parents. Those can be as simple or in-depth as you want, but not having any should not be an option. We strongly encourage families to sit down before summer and set up a “Parent-Teen Driving Contract.” There are a lot of templates for one of those online and some are even available through insurance companies’ websites. Essentially, by setting up a contract you are simply notifying your teen driver that you expect to know how, when, where, and with whom your teen is driving in the summer, and such contracts are widely regarded as one of the best tools to safer teen driving.

Studies show that teenagers are particularly likely to have late night crashes, especially when with their peers. Limiting late night driving with curfews, even around 9 p.m., can really reduce the highest risk crashes. If they are allowed to head out later, make sure to require frequent check-ins with you. Also, be innovative but open and honest with your teens about the seriousness and importance of safe driving, and the risks they may face. If you choose to install technology in your vehicle or in their smartphones to track their location, driving behavior, or to block texts and phone calls while they are driving, let them know why and use it as a platform upon which to build trust.

And if nothing else this summer, remember the Intermediate Driver License (IDL) restrictions that may apply to your teen and discuss them in detail with them. Teenagers who are under 18 years of age are first issued an IDL. Ultimately, they need to know the restrictions imposed upon them regarding late night driving and carrying teen passengers, but that law is in place to support you as the parents so that you can more easily tell them “no” when they ask to drive late or bring friends in the car.

We hope you all have a wonderful and very safe summer. We are hopeful you will all have a chance to get out and drive in the beautiful weather, and that your teens are able to safely do the same.

Peter Barrett is an Arlington police officer and is co-owner and an instructor at 911 Driving School in Marysville.


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