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Safe Summer Driving

By Jim Schwalen

Plants are blooming, the sun is setting later, school is out, and the Brewers are back on the baseball diamond. That can only mean one thing: summer is here!

Unfortunately, summer is also one of the most dangerous times on our roads and highways, especially for teen drivers. According to the National Safety Council, car accidents are the number one cause of death for teenagers in the U.S.

Overall, the number of fatal car accidents has declined significantly in the last 10 years. However, there has been a recent uptick in the number of people killed in car accidents since 2014.

This rise in fatal highway accidents seems counterintuitive. After all, cars now have more standard safety features than ever before. So why are we seeing a spike in fatalities, and why are teenage drivers so significantly impacted? There are many reasons.

  • First is the lack of experience of teen drivers. While it may sound cliché, practice makes perfect. Many teens simply lack those skills that become second nature to experienced drivers, such as constantly scanning the road for obstacles or hazards.
  • Second, there are many distractions for drivers of all ages. Smartphones, the impressive information systems available in many cars, and even simple tasks such as opening a bottle of water can distract drivers and slow response time. And for teenage drivers, passengers can be a significant distraction. In fact, a single passenger can increase a teen driver’s risk of crashing by 44 percent!
  • Third, speeding is a significant contributor to fatal car accidents. Many states across the nation, including Wisconsin, have increased highway speed limits. Higher rates of speed give young, inexperienced drivers even less reaction time to avoid an accident.
  • Fourth, teenagers are statistically the least likely to wear seatbelts.
  • Fifth is the effect night driving has upon teen drivers. Crash rates increase significantly for drivers of all ages at night, but particularly for teen drivers. For instance, 16 and 17 year-old drivers are three times as likely to be involved in a fatal car crash at night than they are during the day.
  • Finally, impaired driving is a key contributor to car accidents. “Impaired” includes drunk or drugged driving from illegal drugs and alcohol, but also includes side effects from over-the-counter drugs. Additionally, a lack of sleep can result in drowsy driving, which is just as dangerous as drunk driving.

So what are the solutions?

  • Get involved. The key to safe teen driving is parental involvement. We recommend you take the safe driving pledge with your teen. As part of the pledge, parents commit to ride with teen drivers, to remain calm when riding with your teen, and to set a good example when you are behind the wheel, including wearing a seatbelt, obeying speed limits, and driving safely.
  • Don’t rely solely on driver education. Driver’s education programs are terrific, but are no substitute for practice and experience. As mentioned above, take the time to drive with your teen to help him or her get the necessary experience behind the wheel. Also, explore the Teen Driving Program at Road America. The program goes beyond typical driver’s education by putting drivers in common emergency situations in a safe, controlled environment. The classes regularly cost $140 per person, but West Bend customers pay only $80. 
  • Limit distractions. Don’t let young passengers ride with your teen driver, and prohibit the use of smartphones while your teen is driving.
  • Set a good example. Speed is a major factor in most car accidents. Set a good example for your teen by obeying speed limits, and encourage them to do so, too. Also, make sure to wear your seatbelt every time you get in a car. Your teens do listen to what you tell them, but they also learn from watching what you do.
  • Consider an earlier curfew. Most accidents happen at night, so requiring your teen to be home earlier will decrease their nighttime driving.
  • Prohibit impaired driving. Make it clear your teen should not get behind the wheel if they are in any way impaired. Also, they should not ride as a passenger if their driver is impaired. Agree to provide your teen with a safe ride home if they need help.
  • Choose vehicles with safety in mind. Teens should drive vehicles that reduce their chance of crashing, and protect them in case they do. Bigger, heavier cars, cars with low horsepower, and vehicles with the best safety ratings are your best bet to keep your teen driver as safe as possible. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) regularly publishes a list of affordable used cars that meet important safety criteria for teens.

Summer is a wonderful time in Wisconsin. Just as we’ll all be cheering on the Brewers to make it across home plate, West Bend wants to make sure your boys and girls of summer make it home safely, too.

Jim Schwalen is Vice President of Personal Lines & Marketing at West Bend Mutual Insurance Company.


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