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Sandy Spavone: Parents, teens responsible for developing good driving skills

Lori Johnston

Simply put, the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) wants to keep teens safe on the road. The Virginia-based group works with nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and business and industry leaders to combat distracted driving and drunk driving.

NOYS also works to prevent bullying, drug abuse and violence among teens, and it promotes health and wellness.

NOYS Executive Director Sandy Spavone, a former teacher who has worked with national youth peer education programs since 1997, talked with about bad behavior behind the wheel.

Why is traffic safety among teens still a challenging issue?

Every day, there is a new teen driver. Parents are, for the first time, in the situation of being a driving coach to their baby, to their child. There’s not a lot of information for parents on what to do and how to mitigate the risks. Parents have a definite key role in working with their teen, and more so because states have cut driver’s education out of their school curriculum. Parents need to understand that just because the birthdate says the child is old enough to drive, (it may not mean they) have the skills and maturity to … be a safe driver.

What programs can be helpful to parents?

We heard from parents that it was hard to find out what their state’s graduated driver’s licensing (GDL) laws were. UnderYOURInfluence, funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, is specifically set up for that need. We also have worked with other partners. For instance, NETS (Network of Employers for Traffic Safety) has developed a nice road guide for parents. Most parents have to spend anywhere from 20 to 40 hours with their teen driving; it’s required by states, but the states don’t tell them what they should do with their time.

What behaviors create bad teen drivers?

Texting definitely is an issue. This generation has their phones for several years before they get their licenses. It used to be they get their license and then they get their phone. The statistics, though, are not supporting that texting would be the main cause (of accidents). A lot of states still have not included “distracted driving” or “texting while driving” on their accident reports.

What needs to happen with GDL laws?

We know that states that have strong GDL laws have lower fatality rates. We’re not only protecting our teens with GDL laws, but we’re protecting everybody that shares the road with teen drivers. We need to make sure all of our states have strong laws to protect teen drivers. Those laws control nighttime driving, which is a huge risk, and also passenger restrictions. With every passenger (riding with a teen driver), the statistics of being in a crash grows.

How else can parents get involved?

Use a parent-teen driving contract. We encourage the parent to make it both positive and negative. If they (teen drivers) do a certain infraction, this is going to happen. You gradually reward them for good behavior behind the wheel. Say you set curfew at 8:30 p.m. for the first month, then move it to 9 or later thereafter. We really encourage the parents to make it a two-way conversation because the teens are interested in this, too.

Are there any tech resources for parents?

There are technologies you can put on your child’s phone to see what’s going on behind the wheel. Canary is one of those products (available in the Apple and Google Play app stores). If a teen driver tries to text, use Facebook or do anything with the keyboard while the car is in motion, it sends the parent an email or text that the phone was engaged while the car was in motion. Other apps stop the phone from being used when the car is in motion. You can set it up to be less controlling or as controlling as you, as a parent, want to be.

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