Experts share how to talk to kids about safe driving

Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste and councilman Cameron Smyth walk along side hundreds in attendance at the Remembrance Walk at Central Park on Wednesday. Cory Rubin/The Signal

There’s freedom, convenience and thrill behind getting your driver’s license for the first time as a teenager but statistics show the leading cause of death among young drivers are traffic collisions. 

Safe driving can help change this around, and while campaigns and advertisements exist to spread the message, Santa Clarita Valley experts say change starts at home with parents and guardians. 

“Communication is key,” said Audrey Burgdorfer, RN, BSN, PHN, a College of the Canyons nurse. “There are many ways kids can learn (about safe driving). They can learn through interaction or thought process. The important thing to remember is that there’s consequences to your actions.” 

From making a parent-teen contract to participating in interactive, educational activities, here are some ways local experts suggest to approach educate young drivers. 

Set an example

It’s easy to give instructions, but showing rather than telling can make a greater impact. 

Exemplary driving means following the law and driving without distractions, practices kids can grasp when riding in a car with their parents. 

Councilman Bill Miranda, who has been a strong advocate of safe driving, said teenagers learn from other people’s habits,  including their parents. “I think it’s critical that, especially in this day and age with cellphones all over the place, we preserve lives,” he said in May when the city of Santa Clarita launched its White Ribbon Campaign, which promotes teens to obey traffic rules.

Tip: Converse with your teen about the consequences of distracted driving. Have your child offer to take over tasks so that you can focus on driving. 

Scott Renolds holds his daughter Natalie’s, 8, hand as they wait for the annual Walk of Remembrance to begin on Wednesday at Central Park. The event honoris Santa Clarita youth, age 24 or under, who died in car-related accidents, like Renold’s brothers Tim and Danny. KATHARINE LOTZE/Signal. 10142015

Teach about distracted driving

Today’s world is highly dependent on mobile devices, even while behind the wheel. But driving while using a cellphone or any smart device can pose safety risks. 

In fact, the National Safety Council reported that using cellphones while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year, and that one in four car collisions in the nation is due to texting and driving.

“Many people think they are good multitaskers, but that is actually a myth, especially when it comes to cell phone use while driving,” according to an infographic on the Council’s website. 

“The human brain cannot do two things at the same time — like watch tv and hold a phone conversation. The same is true when driving and talking on your phone. The brain switches between the two tasks which slows reaction time.”  

Physical distractions like texting or changing the radio station aren’t the only ones. Driving while sleep deprived, drunk, depressed or anxious can also result in dangerous situations. 

Larry Schallert, assistant director of Student Health and Wellness at College of the Canyons, said parents should be aware “that young people can get depressed and driving when depressed can be a hazard as typical precautions to take care may not be readily implemented.” 

Tip: Schallert suggests to tell your child that it’s OK to call home for a ride if they or their friends have been drinking to avoid driving under the influence. Teach them how to resist pressure to get behind the wheel. 

Preparation is key

Much like other states across the U.S., California has programs for young drivers that parents should know about. 

For example, the state’s Graduated Driver License Program, adopted in 1998, was solely in place to help protect teens as they learn to drive. These systems are vital as the data has shown that “the risk is highest when teens are in the first 12 to 24 months of licensure,” according to the California Highway Patrol. 

The three-phase program consists of elements such as a mandatory 50 hours of driving, the prohibition of driving unsupervised between the 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., nor can teens carry any passengers under the age of 20 unless accompanied by a licensed driver of age 25 or older. failing to follow the GDL rules can result in traffic citations. 

The CHP also offers its Start Smart program, a free, two-hour long course that teaches teens to become more aware of their responsibilities as drivers. This class is aimed for parents and the newly licensed young driver, where they have the chance to speak directly to officers about collision avoidance techniques, speeding, distracted driving and the importance of wearing a seat belt. 

Tip: Take a course with your child and make a commitment to work closely with them to manage their driving experience. 

Communicate often and make it memorable

There are several ways to get a message across, but Burgdorfer suggests interactive ones are the most memorable for children. 

“Kids learn through interaction,” she said. “Students are always trying to prove something, but when you interact with them, it’ll make a memory and they will remember.” 

There are multiple, annual events across the SCV aimed at teaching safe driving that parents and children can participate in together and learn in an “interactive and memorable way.” 

Every fall, for example, the city of Santa Clarita holds a Parent Resource Symposium at City Hall with activities such as a drunk driving simulation. The city and local organizations also host the Evening of Remembrance event in the fall, which honors Santa Clarita residents ages 24 or under who died in a car-related crash. The event also aims to encourage distraction-free driving. This year’s event is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 17 at Central Park. 

Burgdorfer said constant communication is, above all, the most important. Even if one’s child finds themselves in a risky situation, let them no there’s a “no-questions-asked” policy and that addressing their actions can be dealt with later. 

Tip: Burgdorfer suggests creating a “no-questions-asked” contract between you and your child that reads they can count on the parent for help should they need a ride, as well as pledging to be smart drivers. 

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About the author

Tammy Murga

Tammy Murga

Tammy Murga covers city hall and business for The Signal. She joined in the summer of 2018, previously working in Northern California as an assistant editor and reporter for the Lake County Record-Bee. In 2016, she graduated from Mount Saint Mary's University, Los Angeles. Have a story tip? Message her on Twitter or at [email protected]