Drive Time

Element - - Lifestyle - By Mike Scott

Your teenager’s champ­ing at the bit to get their own car. The crappy banger may not be the best op­tion…

There’s some things that will never be cool in the eyes of many teenagers. Bovril. Pocket pro­tec­tors. Kenny G. Walk shorts with long socks and Ro­man san­dals. But to be fair, no-one’s life has ever de­pended on el­e­va­tor mu­sic or pleated shorts. And if be­ing cool is about liv­ing life to the full, stay­ing safe be­hind the wheel is an ex­cel­lent place to start.

The harsh re­al­ity is that a teenager is twice as likely to die in a car crash than their par­ents. Re­search con­firms that even though teens made up just six per cent of all li­censed car driv­ers from 2008 to 2010, they ac­counted for 14 per cent of driv­ers in­volved in both mi­nor and se­ri­ous in­jury crashes, and 13 per cent of driv­ers in­volved in fa­tal crashes.

More than 700 Kiwi teenagers have died in road crashes in the past decade, with one teen killed on the roads ev­ery week in re­cent years. New Zealand has the high­est road death rate in the OECD for 15-17-year-olds, and the fourth high­est road death rate for 18-20-year-olds.

Each one of those deaths is a bed­room cov­ered in posters that falls silent, a life­time of po­ten­tial snuffed out in sec­onds, and more shat­tered lives than we can imag­ine. The pain is am­pli­fied by the fact that most of those deaths were avoid­able.

Road safety isn’t just about pre­vent­ing death. That brief lapse in judge­ment can re­sult in los­ing the abil­ity to walk, a loss of mo­tor and brain func­tions, mas­sive fa­cial re­con­struc­tion, se­vere or­gan da­m­age and the in­abil­ity to feed or toi­let one­self.

So who’s re­spon­si­ble for im­prov­ing teen driv­ing sta­tis­tics? In­ter­na­tion­ally, road safety think­ing has trans­formed over the last few years. One cor­ner­stone of world-lead­ing coun­tries such as Swe­den and the Nether­lands is that road safety is ev­ery­one’s re­spon­si­bil­ity – driv­ers, rid­ers, road builders, par­ents, ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers, em­ploy­ers, pol­icy mak­ers, etc.

Of­ten, a sea change of the scale re­quired to make sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment be­gins with govern­ment. And the New Zealand Govern­ment has re­sponded to the teen driv­ing cri­sis through a range of ini­tia­tives in the Safer Jour­neys road safety strat­egy, in­clud­ing rais­ing the driv­ing age, in­tro­duc­ing a zero al­co­hol limit for un­der 20s and mak­ing the re­stricted driver li­cence test harder.

Not all of the lat­est road safety ini­tia­tives are leg­isla­tive. One of the NZ Trans­port Agency’s (NZTA) cur­rent ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns is aimed at re­mind­ing par­ents that they’re re­spon­si­ble for help­ing their teen driver be­come a safe driver. The cam­paign tells par­ents not to bail out when teens gain their re­stricted li­cence and be­gin driv­ing solo. And along with stay­ing in­volved dur­ing their teen driver’s re­stricted driv­ing li­cence phase, when it comes time for a teen to buy a car of their own, par­ents play a much more im­por­tant role than just be­ing the ‘bank of mum and dad’.

We can teach our teens good driv­ing habits. But the re­al­ity is that from time to time, things will go ter­ri­bly wrong. Ev­ery­one makes mis­takes.

And that’s where you can’t go past hav­ing a safe car. Par­ents play a key role in en­cour­ag­ing teen driv­ers to look beyond style when de­cid­ing which car to buy. While safety might not be the height of cool­ness, the good news is that a car that will pro­tect your teen doesn’t need to be a car they wouldn’t be seen dead in.

A teenager is twice as likely to die in a car crash than their par­ents.

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