Parents: Talk to teens about driving

Published 9:42 pm Thursday, July 23, 2009

As the days of summer continue, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and AAA Mid-Atlantic are encouraging young drivers to pay attention to the road.

“Overall, the carefree days of summer are great,” Martha Meade, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said. “We just don’t want carefree, lazy days of summer to turn into carefree, lazy driving habits.”

Youngsters ages 15 to 20 drive about 44 percent more during the summer months than during the school year, according to a 2003 Liberty Mutual/Students Against Destruction Decisions study. Car crashes are the top cause of death in this age group in the United States.

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The summer months can be particularly deadly for teens. According to the DMV’s Virginia Highway Safety Office, 35 teens ages 15 to 19 died in traffic fatalities in Virginia during May, June, July and August 2008. During the same time period in 2007, 50 teens lost their lives.

“These may seem like just numbers, but they represent our daughters, sons, brothers, sisters and loved ones who are gone forever,” VAHSO Director John Saunders said in a press release. “Summer has the potential to be a memorable time spent with friends and family. To make sure this summer is a good one, adults need to take time to supervise their teen drivers, and teens need to act like responsible young adults.”

Martha Meade agreed, saying younger drivers are more inexperienced and “by nature believe they are somewhat invincible.”

“They often don’t associate the dire consequences of looking down for that one or two additional seconds that it takes to tend to something inside the car,” she added.

Meade also pointed out summer presents more opportunities for young children to dart into the street while playing outside.

“That can certainly be a disaster if the driver is not paying attention,” Meade said.

To combat the effects of teen inexperience, parents should remind their young drivers about Virginia’s teen driving restrictions.

Virginia’s curfew restriction, for example, prohibits anyone under 18 from driving between midnight and 4 a.m. unless there is an emergency, they are traveling to or from work or a school-sponsored event, they are accompanied by a parent or other adult acting in place of a parent, or they are responding to an emergency as a fire or rescue volunteer.

In addition, drivers under 18 may carry only one passenger under 18 during the first year they hold a license. After one year, drivers may carry only three passengers under 18 until the driver turns 18. Those with a learner’s permit may not carry more than one passenger under 18. The passenger restrictions do not apply to family members.

Virginia also has laws on the books about using cell phones while driving. Children under 18 years old may not use any wireless device, including cell phones, whether it is hand-held or not. Texting and e-mailing while driving are prohibited for all drivers, regardless of age, unless there is an emergency.