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First Month of Driving Riskiest for Teens

Wasn’t it only yesterday you were teaching him to ride a bike without training wheels? Today your teen is taking his first solo drive after having received his license. He is thrilled and you are a nervous wreck. No wonder.

While The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the number of traffic fatalities in 2010 fell to the lowest level ever reported, automobile crashes are still the leading cause of death among teen drivers .

A new study from the AAA Traffic Safety Foundation reveals that teens are 50 percent more likely to crash during their first month of unsupervised driving than after having driven for one year. Among the common mistakes of young drivers: failure to reduce speed, inattention and failure to yield.

“The overall issue with new teen drivers is just plain inexperience," says Fran Mayko of AAA New England. “They haven’t had all the situations, near misses and near hits that more experienced drivers have. As a result they don’t know how to get themselves out of a bad situation unless they practice enough to be able to expect the unexpected.”

Mayko says she tells teens, “You may have passed the test but you only have a bona fide license to drive on city roadways. You need to practice, practice, practice, and you need to do it properly – without distractions, without texting, without talking on the phone.”

The AAA Foundation adds that just because a teen has his or her license it doesn’t mean they’re ready for driving solo. Mayko says it is important for parents to continue driving with teens so that basic skills can be mastered. And practice should not limited to sunny Sunday mornings: It should, Mayko says, encompass different types of street and weather conditions, such as heavy traffic, rural roads and snow and rain.

AAA has some other tips to ensure your teen drives safely:

Just say, “No” to passengers: It’s a fact that teen crash risk multiplies when other teens are in the vehicle. Set limits for your teen’s driving behavior, and enforce them rigorously.

Set rules about driving. Just because they have their license it doesn’t mean your rules are null and void. In fact, it isn’t enough to set driving rules for teens in keeping with state laws: parents should set their own guidelines to encompass distracted driving avoidance, driving after dark, during inclement weather, in congested urban areas, or any other areas where they feel a teen driver lacks experience to handle driving situations safely.

Being a safe driver doesn’t end when a teen buckles his or her seatbelt and adjusts the rearview mirror. It starts with experience, but the learning does not end.

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