Role Models

Published May/June 2006

Racing legend Mark Martin reminds parents to do the right thing behind the wheel.
By AAA National

Race car legend Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion, knows about driving. As the father of five, Martin has also dealt extensively with the issue of teen driving.

While his four daughters are now grown, Martin’s son, Matt, 14, has just a few years to go before getting his driver’s license.

“When the girls first started driving, they could only drive during the day,” Martin said. “Then we started working the nighttime driving in gradually as they got more experience on the road. We’ll employ something similar with Matt.”

A AAA member for more than 10 years, Martin knows the important role parents play in ensuring their teens drive safely.

“Parents are always the primary role model,” Martin said. “Kids want to do what their parents do. Just like everything else, it’s very important that you always do the right thing when you’re behind the wheel, especially when the children are watching.”

For teens, it’s the best of times; for parents, it can be the worst of times. For a teen, getting your driver’s license is like getting the keys to freedom. For parents, it’s entering a world of dread where your teen’s safety is at risk. Unfortunately, parents’ fears are well-founded.
More than 5,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 21 die in automobile crashes every year, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Why are teens at such risk? Simply put, it’s a lack of driving experience. Teens have not accumulated enough time behind the wheel and, thus, lack the perceptual and decision-making skills to avoid life-threatening situations, which can arise in a split-second. If teen drivers improperly gauge unfolding events, then there’s no way they can take the proper evasive action.

To make matters worse, you also have to deal with the normal teen feeling of immortality. Compared with older drivers, teens are more likely to engage in unsafe driving behaviors such as speeding, tailgating, and weaving in and out of traffic–because, in their minds, nothing bad will happen to them.

While he may push the limits of speed on the track, Martin has explained the importance of safe speeds to his children.

“I tell them to always stay within the speed limit and drive more defensively than aggressively. You are much less likely to get into trouble when you simply abide by the speed limit,” he said.

Although parents are understandably anxious about their teens’ driving skills, they do play an important role in promoting safe driving, according to the results of a study published in Health Education & Behavior.

“Adolescents were much more likely to drive safely when their parents restricted their driving and monitored their whereabouts,” said the study’s lead author Jessica Hartos, Ph.D.

As with other privileges, parents should establish clear expectations and place limits on the behaviors of their teens when they learn how to drive, according to Hartos.

Unfortunately, parents are not the only influence on teens. Peer pressure can sometimes influence teens to do what their instincts tell them is wrong. “Teens need to realize if they are in an uncomfortable position in any way, it’s always better not to drive,” Martin said. “Call your parents and have them come get you.

“I’d rather go get my kids than have them attempt to drive in a bad situation of any kind,” he added.

Over the last several years, AAA clubs have led efforts to revolutionize the way young people are licensed to drive in the United States. Today, every state and the District of Columbia have some form of a graduated driver licensing law, a system that allows teens to drive incrementally, reducing their exposure to risk (such as driving at night and driving with teen passengers) before they are allowed to drive unsupervised.

If you feel confident as a driver, but not so confident about your teaching and coaching skills, AAA has a solution. Driver-ZED 3.0, a computer-based DVD developed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, is a software program that helps novice drivers recognize and avoid driving hazards. ZED stands for Zero Errors Driving, the overall goal of the program. The cost is $20 and includes shipping and handling.

For more information about teen driver safety, contact your local AAA office. To order Driver-ZED, call 1-800-222-7623, ext. 6300 or visit aaa.com.

Above: Racing legend and father Mark Martin tells parents to be the role model and teach their teens how to drive responsibly and safely.

Below: Teen drivers are at risk largely because of a lack of experience. But graduated driving licensing introduces driving skills incrementally, allowing more supervised time behind the wheel. AAA National photos

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