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UC Irvine traffic safety expert offers five tips for safe summer teen driving


The roads are filled with teenage drivers this time of year, and it’s the perfect time for parents to reinforce good driving habits in their children.

So says Dr. Federico Vaca, associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at UC Irvine and director of the Center for Trauma and Injury Prevention Research. Vaca, a former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fellow and expert on traffic safety and injury prevention, points out that licensed drivers between the ages of 16 to 19 encounter more traffic accidents – and related injuries – than any other driving demographic.

“Because of this, it’s important that parents take the time to go over good driving behavior with their driving children,” Vaca said. “You never can be too safe.”

Most importantly, Vaca said, parents should be good drivers themselves. Numerous studies have shown, he said, that teenage drivers tend to develop the same driving habits – both good and bad – that they see in their parents.

“So if you’re not such a good driver and take unnecessary risks behind the wheel, just remember that your child in the back seat is soaking this up,” Vaca said. “But if you take the time to reinforce good driving behaviors in your teenage children, they will drive more safely. And that’s especially important with all of the traffic we endure each summer.”

Vaca recommends that parents stress the follow five points:

1-Safety belts must be worn at all times. “Not only for the driver, but for everyone in the car, too,” Vaca said. “For your safety, police are paying increased attention to safety-belt use.”
2-Never, ever drink and drive. “Even though underage drinking is illegal, the temptation to drink is there, and it’s never OK to drink and drive,” Vaca said. “Make a pact with your children – tell them that if they have even one drink, don’t drive. Have them call home and offer to pick them up, no questions asked.”
3-Never get in a car with a driver you know has been drinking. “Focus group studies tell us that many teens think they can tell when someone has been drinking or is drunk. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Again, give your children an alternative to driving with someone who has been drinking, and offer to pick them up,” Vaca said.
4-Slow down. “It’s true – speed kills,” Vaca said. “Summer is a fun time with many younger children out of school and playing in their neighborhoods. Plus, teenage drivers are less experienced and take more risks. Add excessive speed to the equation, and the opportunity for a tragic incident increases dramatically.”
5-Pay attention! Don’t text page or talk on mobile phones when behind the wheel. “Distractions behind the wheel can turn a good time into a disaster,” Vaca said. “Leave the cell phones and text messaging for a time when you’re out of the car. Keep your eyes – and mind – on the road.”


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