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UCLA

Is your teen a safe driver?

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Published Jul 27, 2007 2:18 PM


There's something about getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time that finds many teens feeling not terrified — but invincible.

Of course, they're anything but.

And if Gary Tsifrin '97 has anything to do with it, today's teens will be better prepared to get behind the wheel with the help of DriversEd.com, an online drivers course that Tsifrin founded a decade ago.

The course, which prepares students for the written portion of a state driving test, delivers what Tsifrin believes is a more engaging learning experience than standard classroom courses. It combines animation, movies, case studies and other features "with the aim of startling students out of their complacency with regard to learning," he says.

"Teens tend to have an 'I already know everything' attitude about driving," Tsifrin notes. "What DriversEd.com tries to really bring home is that there's a lot more about driving that they do not know and will be tested on — 'So sit down and listen.'"

Recently, DriversEd.com teamed up with Cars.com to identify the 10 most common mistakes teen drivers make. Check these out and be sure your teen is driving safely:

1. Being distracted behind the wheel: Cell phones, CDs, eating food and sending text messages can pose serious distractions to drivers. In some cases, drivers will even text message their backseat passengers. Distracted driving contributes to 80% of collisions.

2. Taking too many risks: Actions like ignoring traffic signals or school zone signs and changing lanes without checking blind spots are all considered risky behavior. The difference between risky behavior and distracted driving is that risky behavior is deliberate, while distracted driving is often the result of ignorance.

3. Speeding: Teens tend to speed because they don't have a good sense of how a car's speed can affect their response time. On average, teens drive faster than all other drivers as a whole. They will exceed speeds on residential roads that they interpret as empty because they haven't had any close calls there. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that speeding factored into roughly one-third of all fatal crashes in 2005 when teenagers were behind the wheel — some 50% more than it did in fatal crashes for 20- to 49-year-olds.

4. Overcrowding the car: Teens frequently cram five or six into a vehicle meant to seat four or five. Extra passengers often result in teens driving more aggressively and can have serious consequences.

5. Driving unbuckled: A 2003 survey by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 79% of drivers ages 16 to 24 said they wore their seat belts regularly, while 84% of the overall population did so. Approximately 21% of young drivers do not wear regularly wear seat belts. Many young drivers have a sense of invincibility that also factors into teen speeding. Fortunately, many cars today have seat belt reminders that flash warning lights or chime until belts are secured.

6. Driving under the influence: When teens drink and drive, they're even less likely to practice safety habits like using seat belts: Of the 15- to 20-year- olds killed after drinking and driving in 2003, 74% weren't wearing seat belts, according to the NHTSA. Because teenagers are too young to drink legally, they're also less likely to call their parents to come get them when they're not in good shape to drive.

7. Following too closely: Maintaining a proper following distance is a critical step in preventing accidents. At 60 mph, a typical car needs between 120 and 140 feet to reach a full stop. Most SUVs require an extra 5 to 10 feet on top of that. Consider that 60 mph translates to 88 feet per second and it's easy to see why maintaining a proper following distance is a critical step in preventing accidents.

8. Not being able to handle emergencies: Knowing how to avoid an accident comes with driving experience. Young drivers can only learn so much in the classroom. Learning maneuvers like straightening out a skid or how to apply the brakes correctly are all a matter of experience. Speeding and distracted driving only make things worse, putting teen drivers at higher risk of encountering an emergency situation in the first place.

9. Driving drowsy: Drowsy driving affects an unlikely group: the so-called "good kids." That means straight-A students or those with a full plate of extracurricular activities. Overachievers have a lot of pressure. If they're playing varsity sports and are also preparing for an AP English exam, and if they've been going since 7 a.m. and now it's midnight and they have to get home, they don't think, "I'm too tired to drive."

10. Choosing the wrong car and not maintaining it: Too often, a combination of tight budgets and preferences for high style leads teens to pass up important safety features for larger engines and flashy accessories. A teen or novice driver might opt for a cool-looking sports car rather than a car that's really a safer choice. And if they’ve sunk all their money into it, they might then be remiss in maintaining it.

Cars.com also rated the best new cars for teens, with safety as an important factor.

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