The "are you driving yet?" talk should become part of every pediatrician's regular physical exam for teenagers, Hopkins Children's experts say.
Pediatrician Letitia Dzirasa, M.D., notes that car accidents kill more 15- to -20-year-olds than any disease, so teenage driving should be considered a risky behavior, in need of as much attention as unprotected sex or underage drinking.
"Pediatricians talk to their teen patients about eating disorders, alcohol, marijuana use," Dzirasa says, "but the one conversation that is not happening often enough is about the number-one killer of teenagers: car accidents."
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises pediatricians to:
Dzirasa also urges pediatricians to learn about their state's driving laws and discuss them with both teens and parents. Maryland has a graduated driver's licensing (GDL) law that eases novice drivers into driving in three stages: learner's permit, provisional license and driver's license. Research shows that graduated licensing reduces both the number of accidents and the number of severe injuries, Dzirasa says. For example, one study showed that graduated licensing led to 35 percent fewer crashes that require hospitalizations among 16-year-olds. Other studies have shown that the crash rate among 16-year-olds dropped by 26 percent to 41 percent in the first year after the adoption of a graduated licensing law.
High-risk behaviors or conditions among teen drivers include:
In 2001 alone, 3,600 teens died in car accidents and 337,000 were injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.