talking with your teenWith car crashes the leading cause of deaths for U.S. teens, the  U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are urging parents to set and enforce safe driving ground rules for their teens.

Parental involvement is believed to be a key component in the development of safe young drivers.

"Immaturity, inexperience, and a penchant for risk-taking are the major reasons for high crash and fatality rates among teen drivers," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "In addition to comprehensive state graduated driver licensing systems and strong bans on teen cell phone use and texting while driving, parents who are involved throughout the learning-to-drive process are vital in creating safe and prepared young drivers."

NHTSA data show that 1,963 young drivers between the ages of 15 to 20 died and an additional 187,000 young drivers were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2010. One out of ten drivers involved in a fatal crash was someone between the ages of 15 and 20.

NHTSA offers the following advice to parents of teen drivers:

  • Learn and follow your state graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws, which have been shown to reduce teen crashes. All states have three-stage GDL programs (learner's permit, intermediate or provisional license, full licensure). During the process, restrictions are put in place so young drivers can gain critical driving experience in lower-risk situations and a gradual introduction to more complex tasks through controlled exposure to high-risk situations.
  • Create and sign a parent-teen driving contract – A parent-teen driving contract sets ground rules and creates and explains the consequences of breaking those rules. This ensures teen accountability, ownership of expectations, and an understanding that driving is a privilege that can be revoked.
  • Prohibit the use of electronic devices while driving – Driving while talking on the phone or while texting is risky for all drivers, but especially for teens. In 2010, 368 teen drivers ages 15 to 19 involved in fatal crashes were distracted, accounting for 13 percent of all fatal distraction affected crashes. Parents should set a good example by turning off their cell phones while behind the wheel.
  • Limit teen passengers and night driving – A NHTSA analysis found teen drivers were two-and-a-half times more likely to engage in one or more potentially risky behaviors when driving with one teenage peer compared to when driving alone. That risk increased with multiple passengers. Most nighttime fatal crashes of young drivers occur between 9 p.m. and midnight.
  • Encourage your teen to always buckle up – Wearing a seat belt is the most effective protection for drivers and passengers in the event of a crash. In 2010, three out of five 16- to 20-year-old occupants killed in passenger vehicles were not wearing seatbelts.
  • Talk to your teen about alcohol –In 2010, 22 percent of the young drivers involved in fatal crashes were drinking. Also talk to your teen about the risks of riding with an impaired driver.
  • Establish regular supervised driving and feedback sessions - Most parents and caregivers are unaware of the number of hours of supervised driving teens must complete as part of the intermediate phase of their state's GDL program. Parents should refer to the minimum supervised driving requirements required by their state, but are also encouraged to continue to drive with their teen in a variety of driving situations and environments, such as at night, in inclement weather, and in high traffic situations even beyond what's required. More practice will only make them better drivers. Set aside a regular time to discuss your teen's progress, experiences, concerns and achievements.