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Samantha Sexton: Drive by example during National Teen Driver Safety Week

The excitement that comes with newfound freedom and that first set of car keys is still memorable for many former teenagers. But eager new drivers need to understand the many distractions that increase their risk for an accident.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the greatest dangers for teen drivers are alcohol consumption, lack of seat belt use, distracted and drowsy driving, speeding and driving with passengers in the vehicle.

Adult drivers in Florida, your example matters. During this National Teen Driver Safety Week, we hope parents and guardians will help make a difference by starting and continuing conversations with teen drivers to keep them and all Floridians safer on our roadways.

If you are a passenger with a teenager, offer positive feedback and help your teen safely navigate the road. Discuss the importance of slowing down in school zones, where most drivers reportedly exceed speed limits, putting themselves at risk for a ticket, and worse, risking the lives of students. And when you’re driving together, put down your phone to set an example. The text can wait.

Remind teens of the dangers of driving or riding with a driver under the influence. These are often hard conversations to have. Parents may not want to imagine their teen even considering an alcoholic beverage. But honest conversations can help build a foundation for trust and better decisions.

According to Florida’s DHSMV 2016 Annual Report, in 2016, there were more than 6,000 alcohol and drug-related crashes in Florida — 37 of the state’s 15-17-year-old drivers were cited with an alcohol or drug impairment. Teens need to be aware of the deadly consequences of impaired driving. Marijuana use also affects a driver’s alertness, concentration, coordination and reaction time. Reports show that in 2017, 10.3 percent of 12th graders reported driving after using marijuana.

Drowsy driving is also risky for teens exhausted from studying, after-school jobs and extracurricular activities. Teens are busier than ever. They are not superheroes, and the lack of sleep will take its toll. Drowsy driving is a dangerous habit teens — and adults, by example — need to avoid. Get the rest you need to drive safely.

When a teen is not distracted, they may also be able to spot a distracted driver better, enabling them to avoid dangerous situations better. According to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were almost 50,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Florida, in 2016, which is more than five crashes every hour. These distracted driving crashes accounted for more than 3,500 serious injuries and 233 deaths.

Whether your family or your teen is paying for his or her own auto insurance, explain how good driving habits, good grades, and a clean driving record may individually and collectively reduce the premium for teen drivers. Speeding and traffic violations can quickly increase a teen’s insurance rate, potentially making driving an unattainable privilege.

Talking to your teen means potentially less risky driving behaviors and fewer crashes. Please start the conversation. You can also discuss Florida’s nighttime driving restrictions. For Florida, 16-year-old drivers must stay off roads from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. For 17-year-old drivers, that time frame is 1 a.m., to 5 a.m.

The next time you are going someplace together, hop in with your teen driver. It is a great chance to see how they’re doing on the road. Stay safe!

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Samantha Sexton is VP of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, a property and casualty trade association based in Tallahassee.

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