Drowsy Driving: What Parents Can Do to Help Teens Stay Alert and Arrive Alive

For teenagers, driving equals freedom.  For parents of teenagers, driving equals a whole new set of dangers to be warned against and worried about.   We remind them to stay focused on the road and to always wear their seatbelt.  We don’t let them drive around with a bunch of their friends or during certain times during the night.  We teach them to drive defensively and tell them to be aware of the other drivers at all times.  We tell them not to text and drive, not to drink and drive, and not to ride with anyone who does either of those things.

We do all this because when it comes to teens and driving, the statistics are simply not on our side.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car accidents remain the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. and teen drivers are three times as likely as other drivers to be involved in a fatal crash.   Research has shown that the accident rates for teen drivers are so much higher because of several factors.  They lack the experience that comes from driving for several years which means they don’t always know how to react or to handle a situation.  They are over-confident in their own abilities leading them to drive too fast, lose focus, and make errors in judgment.  They also do things that make driving even more dangerous for them and everyone else on the road like drinking, drugging, and texting.  There is one other factor that plays a big part in a teen’s car accident risk and it has to do with their sleep.

Teenagers, as a group, are sleep deprived.  They are biologically programmed to stay up late but still have to get up early to make it to school on time.  This means they are rarely getting the sleep they need which leaves them drowsy in class, drowsy at work and drowsy when they are driving.  If you are always sleep deprived, that feels normal to you which may be leading teens to believe they are not too tired to drive despite the danger.  This is likely one of the reasons drowsydriving.org indicates that half of all crashes where the driver fell asleep at the wheel involve drivers under the age of 25.

There also seems to be a disconnect between the truth about the dangers of drowsy driving and how dangerous most teenagers think it is.  A recent Sleep in America poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that more than half of teens admitted to driving drowsy in the past year and 15% of high school drivers said they drive drowsy at least once a week.   Despite the alarming statistics and the clear and present danger, teens seem to be missing the message about the dangers of drowsy driving.

This is the most important thing that parents can do to help keep their teen drivers safe.  Educate them on the dangers of drowsy driving.  Make sure they know how to tell if they are too tired to drive and that they have a plan for what they will do if they are too tired to drive.   Help them develop healthy sleep habits and treat sleep as a family priority. Lastly, set a good example for your teenager by making sure you are not driving drowsy yourself.

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