When you learn how to drive and earn a license to get behind the wheel of a car, your world gets bigger and more accessible than ever before. Driving means a new level of independence and self-sufficiency, not to mention more respect from your peers. However, there are also dangers that teenagers must consider when taking control of a fast-moving vehicle made of two or more tons of steel. Getting into a collision with a car can be highly costly or even fatal and is a common problem for young drivers. Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are a variety of factors that result in teenage drivers getting into accidents. Inexperience, speeding, distracted driving, and driving while intoxicated are some of the top causes. In order to avoid these situations, you need to learn and follow basic rules of the road and avoid dangerous and potentially fatal driving habits.

Driving While Under the Influence

When a driver is under the influence of a substance that hinders their judgment or reaction times, it is a crime called driving while under the influence, or DUI. The most classic example of a DUI offense is driving while intoxicated by alcohol, also known as drunk driving. However, your driving ability may be impaired by other substances, such as illegal or recreational drugs or even legal prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. Teens who use any amount of recreational drugs such as marijuana or who are on prescription painkillers should not get behind the wheel of a car while under the drug's influence. Even cough syrup, in sufficient amounts, can impair your ability to drive. Like smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol is illegal for teenagers, and teens should never drive while high or drunk. Teenagers whose friends are about to drive while under the influence of drugs should try to convince the driver to hand over their keys or get an adult to intervene.

Distracted Driving

When a driver is doing anything other than paying attention to the road while they are in motion, it is called distracted driving. There are three categories of distracted driving: those caused by visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. Visual distractions mean that you're not watching the road, other cars, and the driving conditions, while manual distractions involve a driver taking their hands off of the wheel. Cognitive distractions are those that take the driver's mind off of driving the vehicle. One common and deadly form of distracted driving is the use of a cell phone for calling or texting. This behavior is especially risky because it involves all three forms of distraction: In fact, using a cell phone while driving is a major cause of crashes among teen drivers. But even changing the radio channel can involve taking your eyes and mind off of the road. Teenagers should avoid all cell phone use while driving, including using hands-free phones, and also avoid eating, drinking beverages, or changing radio channels. Since talking with passengers is also a cognitive distraction that can escalate into a visual distraction, having passengers in the car is not advised for teen drivers, and in some states, there are legal restrictions on who can ride with a teen.

Other Driving Safety Tips

Inexperience is one of the most basic threats facing teen drivers. Because of this, you should practice safe driving habits no matter what others do. For instance, just because someone else drives at speeds above the posted limits, doesn't mean that you should. Your reaction times will be longer than an adult's, and you will not be as capable of foreseeing and responding to potential threats on the road: That comes with experience. Seat belt use is also extremely important no matter how old the driver is, as it can keep a person from going through the windshield or ramming their head into the dashboard during an accident. Extra caution will be necessary while driving on wet roads, and teenage drivers should avoid driving on icy roads whenever possible. Another important safety tip that teens should follow at all times is maintaining a proper distance from vehicles in front of you. Remember that at 55 miles per hour, a car is moving at 88 feet per second and can take up to 5 seconds to come to a complete stop, depending on the weight of the vehicle. Peer pressure is another major problem for teen drivers. You might face pressure from your friends to drive irresponsibly or even to get into a street race. You need to ignore these influences and remember that your friends can't help you at all if you get into an accident that hurts or kills someone and potentially lands you in jail.