August 10, 2010 @ 6:00 am

A writer for the New York Times Wheels section recently described his youth as “driving down the back roads of America pretending his Volkswagen was a Porsche racecar.”

The story (and the writer) may be old, but the dream hasn’t changed. Teenage drivers, particularly males, still feel the need for speed – a need that can be as devastating as it is enticing. According to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, teenage car accidents are the leading cause of death among U.S. teens, with those in the 16-19-year-old group four times as likely to crash as older drivers.

To understand the magnitude of the problem, consider these driving statistics: young adults aged 15 to 24 are only 14 percent of the population, but account for 30 percent of the $19 billion paid out for motor vehicle injuries.

The greatest risk, says the CDC, is among males; teenage drivers with teen (rather than adult) passengers; and newly licensed teens. And we parents, who struggle to let our children grow up yet keep them safe, are frequently faced with the additional problems of high costs for teenage car insurance (50 to 200 percent more than usual, according to MSN Money’s Liz Pulliam Weston), and the fact that allowing our youngsters room to “spread their wings” sometimes leads to alcohol and drug use.

According to Firsteagle.com, the pressures of growing up in today’s frenetic society lead to vehicle accidents in which the primary cause (60 percent) is teenage drinking. In fact, 70 percent of all teenagers drink alcohol.

There are things you, as a parent or guardian, can do to prevent your teen from becoming a statistic. First, you can make sure your teen understands, and passes, the driving test. CarsforGirls.com offers tips for teenage driver education tests, including insuring that your almost-adult has lots of practice time behind the wheel, first in a relatively stress-free driving zone (like a big parking lot or seldom-used rural road, and always with you or another adult present), and second at an area DMV test drive site.

Passing the test is only the first step, though. After that comes real-life driving – the time when teens and trouble meet. You may have to institute some measures that seem almost draconian, depending on your teen’s temperament. These “zero tolerance” measures could include buying a breathalyzer, a step recommended by Alcoholalert.com – a step that will earn you scowls and sulks, but may prevent your teen becoming another statistic.

You may also want to install GPS tracking on any car your teen uses. To help parents find the best GPS for “teen tracking”, and one compatible with their make and model of car, Teendriving.com offers some useful tips.

Also try to limit driving distractions. Install hands-free cell phone devices, ask your teen to pre-set preferred radio stations, keep CDs handy in a rack, and discuss eating and driving with your teen. According to the AAA, 6,000 people died in distracted driving accidents in 2008, and more than a half million people were hurt.

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