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On The Road

Summer driving tips for teens & their parents

Photo By: Courtesy of ARAContent
Photo Courtesy Of Aracontent Before parents hand over the car keys to their teen drivers, they are advised to review the rules of the road for remaining safe behind the wheel, such as don’t text while driving.

The 100 days of summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day are the deadliest days of the year for teenage drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Between 2006 and 2010, data indicate that during the summer months an average of eight teens 16-19 years old died in traffic accidents every day.

In response to this tragic statistic, Tire Rack has mounted a safety campaign within the context of the Street Survival Teen Driving Program it sponsors in cooperation with several major car clubs. Matt Edmonds, Tire Rack vice president in charge of the program, attended one of the training courses last weekend at Candlestick Park.

Edmonds had a number of tips to offer teen drivers and their parents that could help keep them from adding to these statistics in 2012.

Safety starts from the pavement up, a topic with which Edmonds is very familiar because of his company’s extensive tire testing programs. In our climate, he said, a driver can be in the sunlight on dry pavement one minute and then over the next hill drive on a fog-wet road, made more treacherous by rubber and grease leaching up from the pavement.

If the tread on the tire, designed to maintain traction, is too thin to squeegee the water away, a skid or hydroplaning can easily cause the driver to lose control. Tire Rack testing indicates that at highway speeds, a tire with at least one-eighth of an inch of tread – the distance between the edge of a quarter and the top of George Washington’s head – can handle most wet situations, but if the tread is thinner, the car is likely to slide.

Edmonds emphasized that correct tire pressure is critical to good car control and should be checked manually with each refueling, even in cars with tire-pressure monitoring systems. The correct tire pressure is posted on a sticker on the doorpost behind the driver’s door or on the inside of the fuel filler door on all modern cars. The pressure should be at least what is indicated, or maybe a few pounds more if the tire is warm.

Distracted driving is the most frequent cause of teen driving accidents, and summer circumstances make the use of a cellphone for text messaging or chatting even more tempting. Add the likelihood that the car may be filled with excited friends on the way to the beach or a baseball game, and attention can easily be diverted from traffic on the road.

Even at street speeds, a split second can often be the difference between avoiding and being in the middle of an accident. Edmonds encourages parents and teenagers to discuss this danger, and makes the point that parents must also set an example in their driving to emphasize the importance of the teen focusing 100 percent of his or her attention on changing traffic conditions.

When driving, both teens and their parents can practice techniques that help avoid unsafe situations. In particular, it’s important to focus the eyes and attention as far down the road as possible.

When driving together, try playing the game of planning ahead, describing what is seen way down the road and what could happen – a bicyclist on the shoulder who might swerve into traffic, a pedestrian who might walk out into traffic on a busy city street assuming that traffic will stop or a car entering the freeway into the lane you are in. By looking and thinking ahead, the driver is less likely to get in trouble, and more likely to be able to respond if a problem develops.

Choice of vehicle is another area where parents can provide safer conditions for their teenagers. Though it may often seem as if a larger vehicle would be safer, data prove this isn’t the case. A five-year-old SUV is not only more difficult to control in rapid-response situations, but it seldom has the same safety equipment as a newer car. At a minimum, parents should ensure that the cars their teens are driving are equipped with anti-lock braking systems and, even better, one of the new electronic stability control systems that help the driver maintain control if a quick lane change or hard braking is required.

Edmonds strongly encourages parents to enroll their teens in one of the advanced driving courses that are available, such as the Tire Rack Street Survival Program (www.tirerack.com) or one of the defensive driving courses taught at regional race tracks (www.Jimrusselusa.com, www.kipbarber.com or www.hookedondriving.com).

Edmonds points out that many parents are quick to sign up their teens for sports camps, when an advanced driving school would be less expensive, just as much fun and much more likely to help the teen in the future.


Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.

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