Safe Driving Education Should Be Part of Routine Teen
By Katerina Pesheva
The "are you driving yet?" talk should become part of
every pediatrician's regular physical exam
for teenagers, experts at the Johns Hopkins
Children's Center say.
Pediatrician Letitia Dzirasa notes that car accidents
kill more 15-to-20-year-olds than any
disease, so teenage driving should be considered a risky
behavior, in need of as much attention as
unprotected sex or underage drinking.
"Pediatricians talk to their teen patients about
eating disorders, alcohol, marijuana use,"
Dzirasa said, "but the one conversation that is not
happening often enough is about the No. 1 killer of
teenagers: car accidents."
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises
Ask 15-year-olds if they are
applying for a driver's permit soon.
Dzirasa also urges pediatricians to learn about their
state's driving laws and discuss them with
both teens and parents. Maryland has a graduated driver's
licensing law that eases novice drivers into
driving in three stages: learner's permit, provisional
license and driver's license. Research shows that
graduated licensing reduces both the number of accidents
and the number of severe injuries, Dzirasa
says. For example, one study showed that graduated
licensing led to 35 percent fewer crashes that
require hospitalizations among 16-year-olds. Other studies
have shown that the crash rate among 16-
year-olds dropped by 26 percent to 41 percent in the first
year after the adoption of a graduated
Discuss driving risks and ask
probing questions about driving behavior.
Ask specific questions about
medication use, use of alcohol, nighttime driving, seatbelt
use, and use of a cell phone while driving.
Encourage parents to place driving
restrictions on their teenagers, such as making sure
the novice driver is accompanied by an adult.
Ask parents to consider a written
contract with their children, establishing the rules of
engagement and penalties for failure to follow them.
Remind teens and parents that many
state laws restrict cell phone use and nighttime
driving for novice drivers.
High-risk behaviors or conditions among teen drivers
include lack of experience; nonuse of
seatbelts; alcohol and other drug use; common pediatric
conditions, such as ADHD, that increase
accident risk; use of cell phones and audio equipment that
distract drivers; nighttime driving; and the
"it can't happen to me" thinking that's typical of
teenagers and youth.
In 2001 alone, 3,600 teens died in car accidents and
337,000 were injured, according to the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
GO TO APRIL 27, 2009
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
GO TO THE GAZETTE