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As They Gain Confidence, Teen Drivers Become More Careless

Remember the first time you got behind the wheel? You were probably very cautious when you first put the car in gear and took your foot off the brake pedal. But your awe at the experience of driving such a powerful machine began to dissipate the more you drove.

Now there is evidence that documents what you probably experienced. A study conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. and the group Students Against Destructive Decisions shows that teenagers become significantly more careless the more they drive. Gaining confidence, teens engage in dangerous driving practices such as using a cellphone and texting while on the road.

How bad is the problem? The study shows that more than half of high school seniors have had a car accident or a near miss, compared to 34 percent of sophomores.

Teen Drivers Are Overconfident

In Illinois, teens as young as 15 can obtain a limited driving permit. After completing written and visual tests and at least 50 hours of driving time, they can then apply for an initial license at the age of 16. With that initial driving license, a teen can drive without adult supervision. That's when the trouble seems to begin.

The study of teen drivers showed that 75 percent of the respondents "felt confident" in their ability to drive - so confident that 71 percent use a cellphone while driving. And the study reveals that the prevalence of bad driving practices increases with age:

Driving Behavior         Sophomores       Juniors       Seniors

Changing music             26%                    32%            40%

Having 3+ passengers    31%                    35%            47%

Speeding                       18%                    23%            35%

Driving when drowsy       13%                    15%            26%

What Can Parents Do?

Even though a teen may drive extensively, he or she probably has not gained sufficient driving experience or the maturity to be classified as a safe driver. And overconfidence and poor driving behaviors behind the wheel can result in a serious or deadly accident.

Here are some things that parents can do to protect their children and reduce the possibility of an accident:

  • Continue to have conversations with your child about the importance of safe driving behaviors. This doesn't have to be done in an accusatory or negative way.
  • When you need to run a routine errand, let your child take the wheel and observe his or her driving behavior. This can tell you what your child is doing wrong, as well as what he or she is doing right.
  • Offer praise for good driving practices and gentle criticism for poor driving practices.
  • Drive in a safe manner yourself. Don't use a cellphone while you drive or engage in other less-than-safe driving behaviors.
  • Install and activate a tracking device in your car that enables you to monitor your child's driving. The data can alert you to potential problems.

If your child or another family member has been in an accident, you be able to claim compensation for medical costs, lost income, and other economic and noneconomic losses. In that event, speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

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