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Editorial: A dangerous time for teen drivers

With prom and graduation right around the corner, it’s a good time for parents to reinforce safe driving habits in their children.

April, May and June combined for the highest percentage of unbelted teen deaths during the past three years, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

There were 30 teen motor vehicle occupant deaths in April, May and June during the past three years, and 63 percent (19) of those killed were not buckled up.

“The prom and end of the school year season is an exciting time for teenagers, but it also has proven to be a dangerous period on the road,” says Gordy Pehrson, DPS Office of Traffic Safety youth programs coordinator.

“Contributing to the tragedies is a high percentage of teens who were not buckled up.”

Take a look at the numbers of teen deaths per season in 2010-2012:

In the wintertime (January, February and March) there were 24 teen deaths, seven unbelted.

In the springtime (April, May and June) there were 30 teen deaths, 19 unbelted.

In the summertime (July, August and September) there were 32 deaths, 13 unbelted.

In the autumn (October, November and December) there were 17 teen deaths, seven unbelted.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for Minnesota teens.

In the past three years, 103 teen motorists were killed in traffic crashes — and only 45 (44 percent) were belted.

“Poor seat belt use, along with driver inexperience, risk-taking and distractions, are the key factors that make traffic crashes the leading cause of death for teens,” says Pehrson.

“It’s imperative that parents and caregivers take the time to talk with their teens about the importance of seat belt use, reinforce teen driving laws, and set their own family driving rules.”

The Department of Public Safety suggests that parents:

  • Provide significant supervised driving training and continue to do so even after licensure — the first year of driving poses the greatest risk of a crash.
  • Train teens on a variety of road types (urban, rural) and in different conditions (night, rain, snow).
  • Talk with teens to reinforce laws and set limits (such as passenger limitations, nighttime driving) —  and use a driving contract between parent and teen to set rules.
  • Encourage teens to speak up when they feel unsafe in a vehicle to stop unsafe driving behaviors.

A “withdrawal of parental consent form” is available for parents to cancel their teen’s driving privileges (under age 18).

Find resources including a driver’s skills checklist, a parent-teen contract, teen driver laws and the parent withdrawal form online at, click on “Teen Driving,” found under “Traffic Topics.”

Parents, grandparents and other caregivers should also know: Where their teen is going; who they’ll be with; and when they are expected to be home.

Parents should also make themselves available to pick up their children at any time or location.

Parents may feel like their teens don’t listen to them, but studies show the opposite:

Parents have greater influence than any other source, including peers.

Now is the time to drive home safe habits behind the wheel.