By the HELP Committee
and Havre Public Schools
Prom night is almost here. It's an exciting time. Everyone is making plans: who to ask, what to wear, where to eat, which vehicle to drive. As teens are making these decisions, moms and dads need to be involved.
Here are some questions parents should ask their teens:
Have you been out with your prom date before?
Do you or your date plan to drink alcohol or do drugs during the evening?
Who will drive?
What vehicle will be driven?
What's the age of the driver?
Does your date use a vehicle safety belt?
Will you maintain your resolve to wear your safety belt, even if no one else in the car does?
Will you be going with another couple?
Where will you go for dinner?
How many miles away is the restaurant?
How much driving will take place after dark?
Have you been invited to an "after party"?
Who is hosting the party?
Will the host's parents supervise the party?
Who will be at the party?
What activities are planned for the party?
What time will you be home?
It's a lot of information to discuss. And doing so effectively will require numerous conversations over the coming days and weeks. Parents don't want to alienate their children by probing too aggressively. However, parents do need to hear the answers to these questions and to see how their children respond nonverbally.
Perhaps the teen hasn't even considered some of these issues. This will quickly become clear to an attentive parent. The teen may realize that he doesn't know his date well and doesn't know what to expect. A casual date in advance of prom night might be helpful.
Once teens are comfortable with their date and plans, why would parents need to concern themselves with the details? Because, unfortunately, statistics show that teens in cars live or die by the details.
USA Today examined all of the nation's deadly vehicle crashes involving 16- to 19-year-old drivers in 2003. A common formula for teen deaths on U.S. roadways emerged:
A first-year driver is at the wheel. Young drivers make driving errors, exceed speed limits, run off roads and roll their vehicles more often than do older drivers. This is due to inexperience and a physiological fact: The part of the brain that weighs risks and controls impulsive behavior isn't fully developed until about age 25, according to the National Institutes of Health. This leaves many lawmakers and safety advocates questioning the wisdom of licensing the nation's youngest drivers.
They're riding with other teens. Forty percent of 16-year-old drivers involved in deadly single-vehicle crashes in 2003 were traveling with one or more teen passengers. Add one male teen passenger and the risk of a fatal crash nearly doubles, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says. Add two or more young men and the risk more than doubles.
They're in teen-driven cars after dark. It's harder to see at night, so it's more difficult to react quickly to obstacles. This leaves inexperienced drivers more susceptible to making errors after dark. The insurance institute has determined that teen drivers are three times as likely as drivers 20 and older to be involved in fatal crashes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Twice as many first-year drivers die at night as in the daytime.
The young driver loses control. Rollovers often occur when a driver overcorrects and runs off the road. Inexperienced drivers are most likely to do so. That was the cause of one-third of all fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers in 2003.
Some vehicles are more prone to roll over. Specifically, top-heavy pickups and SUVs are a bad choice for young drivers. Such vehicles routinely score poorly in rollover ratings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In fatal crashes, pickups rolled over twice as often as passenger cars, according to the Hill County Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition.
Knowing these risks, what can parents do to create a safer date-night scenario for their teens?
Invite the teens to sign a pledge before prom in which they commit to remain drug- and alcohol-free.
Read through this article with them. Discuss their plans and their options.
Consider renting a limousine for the evening or "playing chauffeur" (very discreetly, of course).
Provide them with a cell phone for date night. That way they can call for help if they have car trouble or need a ride home for any reason.
If a cell phone is not available, provide a calling card or enough change to use a pay phone. Encourage them to call if they find themselves in an uncomfortable position or with an unsafe driver.
The HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line is committed to promoting safety-minded living for everyone in the community. For more information on this or related topics, call 265-6206.