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The concept of  “ teen drivers ” is transforming from some sort of surreal horror movie to reality as my oldest daughter enters high school.

As an attorney specializing in personal injury I am all too familiar with the dangers and risks of teen drivers. The first issue is simply lack of experience behind the wheel. This is compounded by what experts tell us is a developing frontal cortex in a teenager that can result in poor judgment. Add on top an obsessive attachment to the cell phone through texts and social media and what you have is a recipe for disaster.

Statistics bear out the very real dangers presented by teenage driving. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for 15-20 year olds. Amazingly, 75% of the teens killed in car accidents were not wearing a seat belt. This is a statistic that I cannot get my head around. Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury by 45%. Everyone, including teens, knows that seat belts help prevent injury. How do we explain the numbers?

Again, teens may look like young adults but their brains are still developing and one of the last parts of the brain to fully develop is the frontal cortex which is the center of the brain responsible for reason and judgment. Developing frontal cortices can lead to bad decision making. We all know that teens simply don’t have the life experience to fully appreciate the dangers that are out there. They tend to feel immortal and invincible which compounds these issues.

Following is a list of some basic tips – yet good reminders – for the young teen drivers out there:

    • Always, Always, Always wear a seat belt. Easy and a proven life saver.
    • Wear a seat belt (in case you didn’t understand the first point).
    • Obey the speed limit. Speeding is, no surprise, a major cause of youth traffic crashes.
    • Respect the elements: Slow down in rain, fog, ice and snow and keep twice the normal stopping distance between you and the car in front of you.
    • Put the phone down. Pull over to a safe place to talk if you need to make a call. The department of transportation notes that cell phone usage while driving is the cause of 1.6 million car crashes each year and over 6,000 fatalities. There are apps that parents can subscribe to that block your teen from sending or receiving texts while driving. It also disables other phone features while the car is in motion. Click here for more information.
    • Focus on the Road. Get your radio station set before you start driving. Get your directions before you start. Distracted driving is a huge issue among teens (and adults).
    • No alcohol. Underage drinking is against the law. Missouri has a Zero Tolerance law if you are caught driving with even a trace of alcohol in your system. Most parents share this zero tolerance policy. If alcohol is involved, then find a different driver. Call a friend, a sibling, a parent or a cab.

Driving is a learned skill. Therefore, we get better at it over the years.

When anyone gets behind the wheel of a 5,000-pound car capable of going 80mph, we need to have an appreciation of the consequences of what could happen if something went wrong. Unfortunately, teenagers tend to be really bad at evaluating and appreciating the consequences of their actions. Also, they lack driving experience. Teens need to be made aware of the very real dangers they face. Parents need to take a role in educating their teen drivers and setting out ground rules with consequences for use of phones or alcohol while driving. Don’t let your teen become a heartbreaking statistic.