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Colorado Parents Hold Key to Saving Teen Drivers’ Lives

October 18, 2010 - NATIONAL TEEN DRIVING SAFETY WEEK, OCT 17-23 - Traffic Safety - DENVER -- Parents of teenagers often feel like they do not have much influence on their kids, but when it comes to safe driving, they do – and it could mean a difference between life and death.

Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of teens in the U.S. and Colorado.   In 2009, 63 young drivers age 15 to 20 were involved in fatal crashes in Colorado and 47 in this age group were killed.

This week marks National Teen Driver Safety Week and Colorado’s Teen Driving Alliance urges all parents to get involved when it comes to preparing teenagers to be safe and responsible drivers.  The Alliance is a group of government agencies, law enforcement and private partners working together to reduce teen driving fatalities and injuries.

“As chief of the Colorado State Patrol and the father of two young boys, I understand the anxiety parents face when their teenager starts to drive, but there are many things you can do to keep them safer behind the wheel,” said Col. James Wolfinbarger, chief of the Colorado State Patrol.  “Educate yourself about Colorado’s teen driving laws and enforce them at home.  Sit down and talk with your teenager about safety, the rules and consequences.”

Colorado’s Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws are designed to phase-in beginning drivers, with various requirements depending on the teenager’s age when they start the permit process.  All teen drivers must log 50 hours of practice driving with a parent or legal guardian.  Experts recommend using this practice time wisely by exposing teens to a variety of road types and weather conditions.

A study released last week by the AAA Foundation showed 68 percent of parents reported that opportunities to drive together were limited by busy schedules of both parents and teens. The study showed teens averaged just over an hour and a half of supervised driving per week, mostly on routine trips along the same routes, meaning few teens gained significant experience in more challenging situations, such as driving in inclement weather or in heavy traffic.

“Driving in a variety of settings is the best way to build confidence and driving skills,” said Wavelyn Dreher, AAA Colorado. “You don’t want your teenager to be driving alone the first time they encounter challenging situations.  Practicing early and often can make the crucial difference between being a tentative novice driver and one capable of handling unexpected driving situations.”

Exposing teen drivers to professional behind-the-wheel training and driver’s education is also important to build confidence and skills. “Don’t take shortcuts when it comes to your teenager’s driving training and education,” said Carol Olds, manager of Driver Education Compliance, Colorado Department of Revenue, Motor Vehicles Division. “Driver training has changed over the past decade and teens may actually be able to teach their parents a thing or two after taking a course.”  A list of state-approved driving schools and license requirements is available at www.colorado.gov/revenue/dmv.

Before teen drivers get behind the wheel on their own, experts suggest parents sign a contract with their teenager that outlines clear rules and has specific consequences if they are broken.  The contract should include Colorado’s GDL laws, which prohibit teen drivers from having any passengers under age 21 for the first six months of their license, and then only one passenger under 21 for the second six months.  It is also against the law for teen drivers to talk or text on cell phones.  There is a midnight curfew for teen drivers and every passenger must wear seat belts.  A sample teen driving contract can be downloaded at www.COteendriver.com.

“Signing a contract with your teenager allows you to discuss the dangers, the rules and why they are important to follow,” said Pamela Hutton, governor’s representative for highway safety, Colorado Department of Transportation.  “Setting harsh consequences, such as losing their driver’s license if they get into a car with an impaired driver, actually empowers your teen to get out of a dangerous situation with their peers.  Teenagers need to understand that driving is not a right, but a privilege that parents can deny.”

Teens also imitate what they see so parents should always practice safe driving habits if they expect their teenager to do the same.  “Keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road, and always wear a seat belt and require all passengers to buckle up.  Together we can save more young lives and protect Colorado’s future,” said Col. Wolfinbarger.

Colorado: The Official State Web Portal