Parents Key To Preventing Crashes Involving Teen Drivers

LONG VALLEY – Imagine if parents could inoculate their teen drivers against car crashes – the number one cause of death for 16-20 year olds in New Jersey. While developmental and behavioral issues coupled with inexperience impact teen crash risk, parents play a critical role in helping teens survive their most dangerous driving years, said the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition. The reminder comes at the start of National Teen Driver Safety Week, Oct. 20-26, which this year focuses on teens and parents working together.

The Coalition, a partnership of the National Safety Council and the Allstate Foundation that includes more than 140 individual and organizational members, points to the state’s graduated driver license or GDL program as a proven tool to help parents keep their teens safe on the road. Graduated driver licensing is a three-stage system that is in place in all 50 states.

In New Jersey, the first stage includes a “learner’s permit” or supervised practice driving phase. This is followed by an intermediate or “probationary” stage that allows for unsupervised driving, but includes restrictions that address risks for teens including driving at night, with teen passengers, while using cell phones and other technology, and unbelted. The final stage is full or unrestricted licensure where all provisions are lifted.

“New Jersey’s graduated driver license program has helped reduce teen driver crashes by 31 percent and teen driver and teen passenger fatalities by 56 percent,” said Pam Fischer, Coalition Leader. “But GDL isn’t just a state or police program, it’s a parent program. When parents understand how and why GDL works to address their novice drivers’ crash risk and partner with their teens to enforce the proven provisions associated with New Jersey’s program, good things happen.”

Researchers have found that teens with parents who set driving rules and monitor their activities in a helpful, supportive way are half as likely to crash, 71 percent less likely to drive intoxicated and 30 percent less likely to use a cell phone when driving. These same teens are 50 percent more likely to buckle up and recognize why doing so is important, and less inclined to speed.

According to a 2013 Governors Highway Safety Association report, speeding as a factor in fatal teen crashes has inched up over the past decade from 30 percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2011. The report notes that, as with adults, speeding is the key area in teen driver safety where gains are not being made. To address this, the Coalition urges parents to enforce two key provisions of New Jersey’s GDL – the 11 p.m. curfew and one passenger restriction.

“Newly-licensed drivers, particularly males, are more likely to speed at night and when friends are in the car,” pointed out Fischer, the parent of a male teen driver. “Parents must recognize this and say no to their teens engaging in these unsafe practices. GDL helps them do that.”

In addition to leveraging GDL, the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition offers the following tips to promote parents and teens working together:

Attend a parent-teen driving program. Many organizations provide free orientation sessions, typically through school and community-based settings, designed to help parents and teens understand the risks for novice drivers and how New Jersey’s GDL program addresses that risk. One such program is Share the Keys, which was developed by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety and Kean University and instructed by trained facilitators.

Know and build upon New Jersey’s driver education and training requirements. New Jersey’s GDL program requires teens who obtain a permit at age 16 to complete at least six hours of behind the wheel training. Many teens also complete 30 hours of classroom driver education instruction provided through their high school. However, completion of these requirements is just the beginning of the learning process. Parents and teens should focus on logging at least 50 hours of supervised practice driving under a variety of conditions during the permit phase of GDL. They should also look for opportunities to continue to drive together during the first year of licensure.

Use a parent-teen driving agreement. An agreement clearly outlines the rules for new drivers and describes the consequences for failing to comply, while prompting an ongoing dialogue about safety. At minimum, the agreement should mirror the provisions outlined in New Jersey’s GDL program. Parents, however, are encouraged to supplement these provisions with more stringent requirements since a teen’s crash risk increases beginning at 9 p.m. and doubles with just one teen passenger in the vehicle. The National Safety Council parent website,, offers a sample agreement.

Focus on building higher order driving skills. Seventy-five percent of serious crashes are the result of critical driver error, with driving too fast for road conditions, being distracted and failing to detect a hazard accounting for nearly half. Parents and teens should focus on building skill in four key areas – speed and space management, vehicle handling and hazard recognition. Families are encouraged to seek out guidance from trained professionals and look for programs like New Jersey-based Drive Safer that provide opportunities for teens to participate in hands-on driving events in that focus specifically on these skills.

For more information on New Jersey’s graduated driver license program, visit

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