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School?s out and fatal crashes increase for young inexperienced motorists

Summer means good times and generating fond memories. But for some families it brings tragedy. The lazy, hazy days ahead are among the most dangerous for teen drivers.

The American Automobile Association, in a recent analysis of traffic crash data, found that seven of the 10 most deadly days for teen drivers and their passengers occur during the summer.

These new drivers have more time on their hands and more opportunity and reason to experience the joys and freedom of this new privilege. Most have jobs which brings the need for a vehicle and the income to afford one or pay for fuel. The result is more teen traffic and, I would venture, a different frame of mind.

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With school behind them, at least for a couple of months, there is a new-found freedom and independence, the first true vestiges of adulthood - accentuated by driving. Combine this with the lack of experience and an incredible number of distractions and you have a recipe for disaster.

The AAA urges parents of teens to "increase their focus on safety during the school-free months ahead." It says parental involvement and Graduated Driver Licensing are the two biggest factors in helping to minimize the terrible toll expected in the coming months.

It is easy for parents to let their vigilance slide without the structure provided by regular school attendance and activities. These freshly licensed drivers have more time on their hands and more need and opportunity to drive. As parents, there are several areas we should all be wary of - proven danger zones.

Distraction

While texting and other use of cellphones get all the media attention and have become the focus of legislation, the biggest source of problems might well be human.

Teens are most likely to use cellphones when driving alone and hopefully they are aware of the problems associated with this form of distraction. What they may not realize is that interacting with other occupants in the car can be as or more serious. The AAA says fatal crash rates for 16- to 19-year-olds increase five-fold when two or more teen passengers are present.

Most GDL laws restrict the number of passengers allowed with a newly licensed driver, commonly to one family member and perhaps a second person. This is based on proven facts, data that proves the social interaction between the driver and friends can easily lead to a delay in recognizing a developing situation. That split-second often leads to a crash.

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As a parent, discuss and come to agreement with your teen driver about who and how many can be in the vehicle with him or her. Ideally, this would be one person only or one family member and another person. It may cramp their style and social status, but not as much as a funeral.

Late nights

Another common component of GDL laws is a restriction on the amount of late-night driving allowed a newly licensed and inexperienced driver. The AAA analysis of crash data shows the chances of a teen being involved in a deadly crash doubles at night with more than half of fatal crashes between 9 p.m. and midnight. Obviously, if the driver needs to get to and from work at a late hour, there can be an exception. But otherwise, a curfew required by law or mom and dad is a wise thing.

Joy rides

Another way to increase the chances your son or daughter will get through that first or second summer as a licensed driver is to restrict the use of a motor vehicle to trips with a specific goal or destination in mind. Simply "going for a drive" at this age and stage can commonly lead to problems.

The AAA says teens have three times as many fatal crashes as all other age groups, based on mileage driven. Add the fact that the highest risk occurs in the first year of licensing. "Parents should limit teens' driving to essential trips and only with parental permission for at least the first year of driving," the AAA says.

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Another tip: Experience is the best teacher. Be a coach and drive with your teen at every available opportunity.

Halifax-based Richard Russell runs a driving school.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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