Dr. Terence Moran

Hey, I have a recipe for you!

Start with a human being and let it mature until the age of 16 years or so.

The aging process, predictably, will instill in the human a delightful combination of rebellion, a sense of invulnerability, a predilection to try mind-altering substances, an intense need to be with and be socially accepted by peers, and a firm knowledge that the human's parents are complete imbeciles.

Now add 2 tons of steel on wheels, place the teenage human in this vehicle and — voila! — you now have a recipe for disaster! Yes, I do mean disaster:

Motor vehicle crashes are the single biggest killer of teenagers — more than AIDS, street violence and drug use combined. (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety)

The chance of a teen being involved in a car crash is directly proportional to the number of teenage passengers in the car. (Journal of Safety Research 2003)

Teens driving at night with passengers are four to five times more likely to crash than teenagers driving alone during the day. (National Safety Council)

Fatal nighttime crashes involving teens are more likely to be associated with multiple teenage passengers, speeding and alcohol use. (Journal of Public Health Policy 1997)

So how can we, as parents, prevent disasters before they happen? (And, no, I don't mean birth control here!)

One answer may be to gradually liberalize your teen's unsupervised driving privileges, dependent on demonstration of good skills and responsible behavior.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in its policy statement on the teen driver, has a sample teen driver contract; the following is an excerpt:

I agree to the following restrictions, but understand that these restrictions will be modified by my parents as I get more driving experience and demonstrate that I am a responsible driver.

For the next ___months, I will not drive after ______o'clock at night.

For the next ___months, I will not transport more than ___ teenaged passengers.

For the next ___months, I won't adjust the stereo or AC/heater while the car is moving.

For the next ___months, I will not drive in bad weather. *

I would add the need for seat belt use at all times and restrict the use of those ubiquitous cell phones to when the car is stopped.

As for alcohol and drugs — NOT AN OPTION. Better your teen calls you for a ride, any time, than get behind the wheel or be driven by someone under the influence.

So parents, let's not be complete imbeciles. Insist on safe driving practices with your teen. Your teen's life — and the lives of others — depend on it.

*The entire policy can be downloaded by going to: www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2006-2830. Toyota also has a similar contract — see www.toyotateendriver.com. I'm sure there are many others.

Dr. Terence Moran is a board certified pediatrician with Merrimack Valley Child and Adolescent Health and Merrimack Valley Hospital. His office is at Merrimack Health Center, 62 Brown St. adjacent to the hospital. He can be reached at 978-521-8108. Parents are invited to e-mail questions for future columns to TMoran.MVCAH@comcast.net.

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