Help Prevent Teen Drowsy Driving

December: what a stressful time to be a high school senior! Colleges and universities are releasing their Early Decision acceptance decisions, midterms and finals are either here or very close, and the last weeks of the semester before “senioritis” sets in is crunch time. My own high school senior, and her college-bound friends, are really feeling the tension of the pre-holiday season. Late nights tweaking college application essays and studying for tests, along with anxious, restless sleep leads to daytime drowsiness. Driving to school and after school activities, for relatively new teenage drivers, can and often is impacted by sleepiness. Indeed, a new study found that one third of teens report driving while drowsy.

Help prevent teen drowsy driving

Both of my teenagers complain of being sleep deprived. While both have fun at their extracurricular activities, neither participate in time-intensive club/team sports. Imagine how much busier teens’ schedules are when their daytime hours are chewed up by varsity team practices and games…it’s no wonder that Liberty Mutual Insurance worked with SADD to commission research regarding the rates and effects of teens driving while drowsy. This study revealed that 56% of licensed teenagers admit to having driven when they felt too tired to drive their best, 32% of teenagers admit to driving drowsy at least sometimes, and most frightening of all, nearly one in ten teens admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel while driving. Terrifying. How can we, as parents, help our teenager be responsible and avoid teens driving while drowsy?

Perhaps we need to heighten our own awareness of the dangers of teens driving when they’re too tired. “Drowsiness impairs performance and reaction time,” says William Horrey, PhD., principal research scientist at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety. “When our brains are tired, our attention, judgement, and ability to act are greatly impacted…particularly if there’s inclement weather of a critical situation requiring quick response. The situation [is] exacerbated when the driver is a teenager without much experience.”

Teens driving while drowsy can be averted, in part, when parents incorporate the importance of staying alert while behind the wheel as part of overall safe driving practices. Dr. Gene Beresin, Executive Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, points out that teens don’t always have the awareness or confidence to tell teachers and friends when they’re stretched too thin, feeling overextended and tired. “Parents should have routine conversations with their teens beginning with open-ended questions to gauge the teen’s perspective on why they may be prone to drowsy driving. One good path …for parents is…to ensure [their teens] get enough sleep before early morning activities and have a ride home if staying out late.”

How parents can help prevent teens from drowsy driving:

When it comes to changing teens’ behaviors on the road, it’s essential for parents to realize the important role that they play. Liberty Mutual and SADD offer the following tips:

1. Be flexible. The aforementioned study also reveals that 56% of teens have taken measures to wake up (while continuing to stay behind the wheel).

  • My take: Tactics such as opening the window for cold air may help for a little while, but we should talk to our teenagers, acknowledge their busy schedules and help them adjust their schedules rather than consistently driving while they’re tired.

2. Call for a ride. 34% of teenagers have called for a ride instead of driving when they’re too tired. Teach teens to call for a ride and research options in advance if they feel they’re at risk of falling asleep.

  • My take: This is a great start, but of course, 100% would be better! Teach teenagers to call for a ride and that there is no shame in that. My teens both use Uber, which has been a real boon.

3. Set expectations. Parents and their teen drivers should use the Teen Driving Contract from Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD as a discussion guide (and conversation starter).

  • My take: Consider this contract a tool to help facilitate open-ended conversations about risks teens may take behind the wheel while drowsy or distracted. It’s also great for parents and teenagers to uphold their own family’s driving rules.

Help prevent teen drowsy driving

Teenagers driving while drowsy could be cause for alarm, especially considering that even us adults don’t always recognize signs of our own sleepiness. Open discussion about the importance of remaining alert while on the road goes a long way towards fostering both driving safety, and positive relationships between parent and teen.

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Disclosure: The Vacation Gals travel blog is a paid member of the Liberty Mutual Ambassador Program.

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