The text from your teenager tells you they’re getting a lift back from the party with a friend who’s just passed his driving test – that means there’ll be 5 of them in the car driving home late.
Is your first reaction one of relief that you don’t have to pick them up or depend on unreliable late night public transport? You can have that glass of wine and not worry about driving later.
Or does it set alarm bells ringing? A newly qualified 17-year old male driver with a bunch of teenage mates in the car on rural roads after midnight ….it could be a recipe for disaster.
And sadly, it too often is.
Road crashes are the biggest single killer of young people in the UK.¹ One in five new drivers has a crash within six months of passing their test² and young male drivers aged 17-20 are seven times more at risk than male drivers overall. Between the hours of 2am and 5am their risk is 17 times higher.³
So how can we keep our teenagers safe?
‘Not driving’ seems the most obvious answer and it’s backed up by science showing that the parts of the brain governing instincts and emotions aren’t fully developed until the mid-20s, so delaying driving should reduce the risks.⁴ We can encourage our teenagers to walk, cycle and use public transport.
Sadly though, being the passenger of a young driver can carry even higher risks than being the driver. In fact more young women die as passengers than as drivers⁵ which is why campaigns such as ‘For my girlfriend’ have started to encourage young drivers not to drive too fast and to keep their passengers – whether their best mate, girlfriend, boyfriend, sister, or brother – safe.
It’s important to talk to our teenagers about the dangers of accepting lifts from their friends. Young drivers – young male drivers in particular – are the highest risk group of drivers because their age and inexperience means they are more likely to take risks and less able to cope with hazards⁶ and peer pressure. It’s essential teenagers know not to get in the car with a friend who’s been drinking or taking drugs and that they recognise the importance of not distracting or egging on the driver.
Better safe than sorry
Perhaps, as parents, we need to let our teenagers know we’ll always pick them up if they’re concerned. We could agree that, even if it’s very late, they can call us any time and we’ll pick them up, no questions asked. Or we can make sure they have emergency taxi money and taxi numbers.
And if our teenage driver insists on driving there’s a lot we can do as parents to help. Some of it even comes down to modifying our own behaviour which is a daunting thought! But parental role modelling has been identified as an important factor in developing safe behaviour amongst children.⁷
If we check our texts at the lights, drive too fast when we’re late or ignore our seatbelts, whose example are our sons and daughters going to follow? We need to let our teenagers see us driving responsibly and also let them drive us. When travelling together we can let them gain experience by doing the driving.⁸ We can offer constructive advice but need to be careful not to become a back seat driver. Though that might be easier said than done!
The more experience our teenagers get before they’re let loose on their own the safer they’re likely to be. Precise figures vary but around 100-120 hours⁹ of supervised driving experience over a 12 month period is considered necessary to make a decent driver. As parents, we can help greatly in this by taking our teenager out and giving them experience in a wide variety of situations and weather conditions.
And the training doesn’t need to stop when they’ve passed their test. We can continue driving with our teenagers and encourage them to take a Pass Plus course (https://www.gov.uk/pass-plus). Pass Plus helps new drivers improve their skills and gain more experience with driving lessons in different conditions, such as at night, on urban and rural roads, dual carriageways and motorways. There is no test, and when it’s completed some insurance companies will offer reduced insurance premiums.
A black box can help
But the first year of driving is still the most dangerous and this is where black box insurance comes in to its own. It works by fitting a black box telematics device to the teenager’s car to monitor exactly how the car is driven and then, depending on the insurer, reward safer driving patterns. It can be a powerful incentive for young people to improve their driving skills.
“Telematics can potentially help people to significantly improve their driving and reduce their risk of crashing by identifying risky types of driving – such as sharp acceleration or braking, speeding and sharp cornering – and then providing advice to drivers on how to drive more smoothly and safely.” Kevin Clinton, RoSPA’s head of road safety.¹⁰
My 20 year old nephew proved to me the benefits of telematics insurance when he complained he’d started a tailback along the narrow lanes of the Lake District by sticking firmly to the speed limit of 20 mph. But his careful driving and safety consciousness – thanks to the black box in his car – is what’s helped keep him safe for his first few years of driving – as well as reducing his car insurance.
Safe Driving Agreement
Many families are also setting up Safe Driving Agreements with their young drivers. You can make a verbal or a written agreement with your teenager and tailor it to your circumstances to support them during the risky first year of driving. It can also be used in conjunction with their black box insurance.
Generally, Safe Driving Agreements are about agreeing with your teenager rules for driving at night, carrying passengers, avoiding alcohol and drugs, not going too fast or using mobile phones, and always wearing seatbelts. You can find an example on the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) website (http://www.rospa.com/roadsafety/info/youngdrivers.pdf).
 Death registrations in England Wales (ONS, 2010)
 DSA, Learning to Drive: a consultation paper (2008)
 Night-time Accidents, (Centre for Transport Studies, University College London, 2005)
 http://www.fmg.org.uk/homepage.php & http://www.learn-2-live.org.uk/being-a-passenger-1
  http://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/Home/SafetyAndRules/SaferDrivers/