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For Teens

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The facts couldn’t be clearer: Car accidents are the number-one cause of accidental deaths in children ages 0-19 nationally. And in New York State, Suffolk County has the highest teen death rate from auto accidents. Motor vehicle accidents are also responsible for an alarming proportion of disabling injuries. The experts at Stony Brook Children’s want you to not only be aware of this problem, but also to take action to keep your children and teens safe. Here, Jane McCormack, RN, Trauma Program Manager, answers important questions. 

What hazards do teen drivers face on the road?

Even more than drinking and driving — which thanks to strong messaging is at an all-time low — distracted driving is a huge problem for teens. This includes anything that takes their attention away from the road: cell phones, texting, music and GPS, but most of all, other passengers. For every additional passenger, the fatal crash rate goes up. New York has a good graduated licensing program that helps limit the number of passengers, but parents can do their part too in making teens earn driving (and passenger) privileges in three-month increments.

Take a spin on the Probability Wheel to find out how much your risk of a crash increases with distractions

prob wheel

What is the number one thing parents can do to help keep their teen drivers safe?

Get involved and stay involved.  Just because a teen has completed driver’s education training and has received a license does not mean he or she is road ready. Studies show that the part of the brain affecting judgment is not fully developed until age 25. So this fact, combined with novice driving skills, means that teens need more supervision than you might think.  Here are some steps that parents should consider:

  • Give teens a 10 pm curfew. Most fatal crashes occur at night, so this takes the teen off the road during the most dangerous hours.
  • Don’t give teens carte blanche for use of the car. Teens who have to ask for permission to take the car have fewer crashes, better safety records and higher rates of seatbelt use.
  • Make safe driving an ongoing dialogue from the time your teen is able to sit beside you in the front seat (typically at around age 13). Point out unsafe behaviors in other drivers. Discuss why you make certain driving decisions. Describe what you are doing. This will give your teen context and rationale for the things that you do automatically based on your more than 20 years of experience behind the wheel.
  • Model safe driving behaviors. If you talk on your cell phone, eat lunch, apply makeup and peek at text messages while driving, why should a teen listen to you when you ask them not to do the same?
  • Talk with other parents. Agree to enforce these guidelines together. But don’t be afraid to be the heavy, or the unpopular parent when needed.

What about these parent/teen driver “contracts.” Are they effective?

Yes, because they make expectations clear upfront. Here are sample contracts, (English) (Spanish) but feel free to make up your own. Some common agreements: not to text and drive, to be home at a certain time, to not drink and drive but also to not get in a car with a driver who has been drinking, and so on. Some parents and teens agree upon a code word that when used the parent agrees to pick the teen up at the party or whatever unsafe situation he or she might be in, no questions asked.

What are the Teen Driving Laws in NY?

In NY, there is a Graduated Driver Liicense (GDL) system (varies Upstate, NYC, and Long Island).  This system is in place to help teen drivers gain driving experience safely and to reduce their risk of crashes.  There are 3 stages of the GDL, click here to watch the NY's GDL Made Simple video (remember there are more restrictions for Long Island) .  Here are the specifics GDL Laws for Long Island:

Graduated Driver License Pocket Guide from NYS Department of Health

Junior Learner’s Permit: Click Here for more details

  • Must be at least 16 years and have a valid Junior Learner’s Permit
  • Only drive between 5am and 9pm
  • Only drive under the direct supervision of a parent/legal guardian or your driving school instructor and they must be sitting in the front passenger seat
  • No driving is permitted between 9pm and 5am
  • There can only be 1 other passenger under 21 years unless they are an immediate family member
  • Every passenger must wear a seat belt, no exceptions
  • Children must be in the proper child restraint seat (link)

Junior Driver’s License: Click Here for more details

  • Must have a valid Junior Driver’s Permit
  • There can only be 1 other passenger under 21 years unless they are an immediate family member
  • Every passenger must wear a seat belt, no exceptions
  • Children must be in the proper child restraint seat
  • Must drive under the direct supervision of a parent/legal guardian or your driving school instructor and they must be sitting in the front passenger seat unless:
    • You are driving directly between home and your employment (must carry proof of employment) between 5am-9pm
    • You are driving between home and work-study (i.e. BOCES)
    • Driving between home and night school (does not include after school activities)
    • Driving between home and an approved program for credit in post-secondary school (i.e. college class)
    • Driving between home and your driver’s education program
    • Cannot drive between home and school unsupervised

Senior Driver’s License

  • Teen is eligible at age 17 years if they have completed a State approved driver’s education course
  • Teen MUST convert his/her Junior Driver's License into a Senior License (at DMV) for the above mentioned restrictions (Junior Permit and/or Junior Driver's License) to be lifted

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