Dear Teens:

Summertime is here, and there will be many teens who do much more driving than they do at other times of year. The days are warmer and longer, and there are trips to beaches, lakes, campsites and hiking areas that appeal to groups of teenagers.

Quite often, four to six teenagers will pile into a vehicle for such trips. Due to the fact that youthful exuberance is exacerbated by group activities (and by showing off), it’s time to once again remind our teen readers to take the responsibility of driving very seriously.

Becoming a responsible driver after receiving the treasured driver’s license is always a goal, but many times, a youthful zeal for fun coupled with relative driving inexperience overpowers good judgment, and the results can at times be devastating. Poor driving habits are not confined to young drivers, but statistics reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that drivers under the age of 24 are responsible for 39% of crashes that cause injury or death, even though this age group has only 19% of licensed drivers.

Excessive speed is the major driving flaw of young drivers, followed by inattention — not keeping one’s eyes on the road. Some teens can say that they never speed when behind the wheel, but can they all say they pay full attention while driving? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reminds drivers that many crashes are caused by actions as simple as tuning the radio or as innocent as glancing at a dog on the sidewalk. Carelessness or inattention, even for a split second, can change a normal drive into a disaster. Research shows that inattention causes the vast majority of rear end collisions.

Do you use a cellphone while driving? If you do, your chance of getting into a crash increases by 400%. While engaging in an intense conversation or dialing a number, the driver is not watching the road like he or she should. The best defense is to pull off the road and stop in a safe place before using your cellphone.

Teens, honestly answer the following questions with yes or no to see if you are a fully conscientious driver or if you need to change your driving habits right away.

When driving, do you ever:

• Eat, drink or smoke?

• Tune the radio for several seconds, staring at the dials?

• Pick up something from the floor or between the seats?

• Read or write anything at all while the vehicle is moving?

• Reach for something in the glove compartment?

• Talk on a cellphone?

• Send or read a text on a cellphone?

• Clean the inside of your windshield?

• Comb, brush or fix your hair?

• Argue with another passenger?

• Turn around to speak with a backseat passenger?

• Put on makeup?

• File, click or polish your nails?

• Put on contact lenses?

• Finish getting dressed?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are at a greatly increased risk of an automobile crash.

Be a safe and wise teen this summer and all year round. Drive with caution, and obey all traffic laws. You, your friends and your loved ones are too important to become traffic statistics.

Write to Dr. Wallace at rwallace@galesburg.net.

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