January is National Passenger Safety Week. Do You Know with Whom Your Teen is Riding?
Melinda Lynam will never forget the day when she learned that her daughter, Laura, was killed in a crash as a passenger in a car with 7 teens including the 16-year-old driver. Under the Graduated Driver Licensing Law in Virginia, the driver was only allowed one extra person who wasn’t a family member. Unbeknownst to Melinda, Laura and her friends had decided to all ride in one car. Despite the driver’s age and restrictions, two mothers watched as their children piled into the car. Neither parent expressed any concern over the number of passengers or the inexperience of the driver. If they had, Laura might be alive today.
Laura was a shining star, a senior in high school, adored by her family and friends. She was number one in her class, an amazing athlete and couldn’t wait to get the results of her application to Yale.
Laura’s tragedy is not unique.
- 2121 people were killed in crashes that involved a teen driver 15 to 18 years of age in 2018NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
- One AAA study showed that their risk of crash “increases by almost half when a 16- or 17-year-old driver has one teenage passenger; it doubles with two teen passengers; and it quadruples with three or more.” AAA
- According to researcher Elisa R. Braver, PhD, with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “Of all motor vehicle occupant deaths among teenagers, 46% are passengers at the times of their fatal crashes.” She continues, “almost two-thirds of these teen passenger deaths occur when other teenagers are driving.” WebMD
Now that we are reminded of some of the deadly consequences of teen driving, what can we as parents and other family members do to help prevent these tragedies and keep our young people safe?
The first thing you as a parent should do before you let your teen or any child ride in a car with another teen is understand the Graduated Driver Licensing laws (GDL) in your state.
There is nothing wrong with and everything right in asking your teen questions when they are going to get in someone else’s car. The more questions you ask, the more it shows your love and concern for your child. Empower them to ask their own questions of the driver before they leave.
Questions to ask your teen before they become a passenger:
- How old is the driver?
- Does the driver have a valid driver’s license?
- How much experience do they have driving?
- How long have they been driving?
- Is the car in good working condition?
- Are they wearing seat belts in the car?
- Will you promise to always buckle up?
- Do they like to speed?
- Do we know the driver of the vehicle?
- If not, are they willing to meet with us when they pick you up?
- Will they give us your destination and will you call us if there is a change in plans?
- Do you have your proper identification with you, just in case something happens?
- Will the driver share with us their parents contact info?
- How many other passengers will be in the car?
- What time will you be home?
- Will you promise to call me if the driver is under the influence so I can pick you up?
- Do you know if the driver is on any kind of medication that may interfere with their driving?
- Do they use their cell phone or Bluetooth while driving?
- Will you sign the Courage to Intervene Promise? Will you let the driver know you have signed the promise?
Once they have answered these questions honestly, we hope, then it is up to you to make the decision that they may or may not go. If you are not satisfied, then don’t hesitate to say no, explaining your reasons for doing so. Let’s face it, we can do a lot in the name of love and safety and this is one time when it pays to put your teen’s life above any desire to be liked.
Melinda goes further based on her tragic experience and has these 3 suggestions for other parents:
- Don’t let your teen get in the car with another teenage driver. You need to be ready to take them where ever they need to go. It may be inconvenient but it pales in comparison to the death of your child.
- Don’t let your teen drive anyone else around unless you are in the car with them. Your presence in the car will ensure that your teen drives safer.
- Don’t let them on the interstate unless you are with them. The speed on the interstate and their inexperience can be a deadly combination.
“I don’t want anyone else to ever be in my shoes. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss her and wish we could just go back in time.” Melinda Lynam
By Candace Lightner, President, We Save Lives