As summer vacation draws to a close, students in the Rockwood School District prepare to begin a new school year. For some teens, the first day of school could mark another momentous occasion:the first solo drive to school.
The parking lot of Eureka High School (and other high schools across the country) is filled with teens navigating traffic, tight parking spaces, pedestrians, and the sometimes challenging rules of ‘right of way.’ Fender benders are not uncommon, and brave teachers take on the role of traffic director at dismissal. For parents whose teens are driving, Eureka Fire Protection District compiled a teen driving safety checklist. Explore tips related to these topics:
Commuting with friends
Parking lot safety
Minding school traffic directors
Basic car safety
Simple emergency safety tips
What is Distracted Driving?
Many teens know that texting and driving is extremely dangerous. Texting while navigating a vehicle is a form of distracted driving. However, many bad habits are considered distracted driving. Any action or behavior that takes a driver’s eyes off the road is a distraction; these habits include eating, drinking, turning on the radio / switching channels, adjusting the AC or heat, etc.
Each year, distracted driving kills thousands of individuals. According to the National Safety Council, in 2021, there were more than 3,000 fatalities related to distracted driving. The NSC’s data further shows that 11.7 percent of these fatalities were caused from cell phone distractions.
Don’t Text and Drive
Using a phone while navigating a car is dangerous. Teen drivers lack the experience to multitask behind the wheel. In addition, even experienced adult drivers cannot safely talk on the phone or text while driving.
Ultimately, one action takes the mind’s focus away from the other task; unfortunately for the rest of the drivers on the road, the attention to the phone often takes precedence over the attention to surroundings (and other cars). Many smartphones include capabilities to silence the phone during the drive. iPhones include the “Do Not Disturb While Driving’ function. Parents can use this feature to ensure that a notification, phone call, or text message doesn’t distract a teen driver.
App to Monitor Child’s Phone
Monitoring apps also enable parents to control different functionalities of their teen’s phones. However, parents need to exercise caution when downloading any monitoring apps; laws guide privacy and communications (via phones and other devices). Make sure any app abides by all state and federal laws. Parents also should discuss the app with their teen to ensure transparency; monitoring a teen’s phone in secrecy could lead to other issues and foster distrust.
Commuting with Friends
Your teen might finally have a parking spot at the high school. The freedom of driving solo is an amazing feeling for many teens, and, in many ways, this freedom is a rite of passage. What do parents do, though, if their teen’s friends want to grab a ride?
Commuting with friends or allowing friends to drive with a teen is a personal call for parents. Some parents feel their teen driver is easily distracted and that friends in the car would be a safety issue. Others might worry about liability, especially if their teen is a newer (and inexperienced) driver.
Before giving the ‘ok’ to friends to ride in the car, parents should consider the maturity of their child, their child’s driving experience, and even the potential liability issues.
Parking Lot Safety
During arrival and dismissal, the Eureka High School parking lot includes hundreds of teen drivers maneuvering lanes, pulling into tight parking spaces, and navigating around other students. Parents dropping off their students and teachers pulling into the parking lot also have to be extra cautious.
For drivers new to the parking lot experience, be mindful of other drivers. Watch for experienced drivers giving cues to enter a traffic lane–for example, waving their hand. Understand that pedestrians always have the right of way.
In the parking lot, always keep a safe distance from other cars. This ensures that if the car stops suddenly, there is plenty of time (and distance) to react.
Keep in mind that the Eureka Police Department has an active presence on the Eureka High School campus. Officers work to ensure students stay safe and enforce traffic laws. It isn’t uncommon to see a patrol car across from the school during dismissal. Peeling out of the parking lot and speeding down 109 is an ill-advised decision.
Minding School Traffic Directors
Eureka High staff and administrators typically take on the role of traffic director during dismissal. Be mindful of their directions and always follow instructions. Their job is to minimize traffic congestion and help students facilitate right-of-way procedures.
Basic Car Safety
Driving to school solo is empowering, and it’s also a responsibility. Staying safe requires a few basic (and sometimes common sense) habits.
Always Buckle Up!
After getting into a car, teens (and all drivers and passengers) should buckle their seatbelt. The Missouri law states that all drivers and passengers wear a seatbelt.
Know When to Turn on Headlights
In addition, if it’s raining, overcast, or the sun is beginning to set, headlights must be turned on. While most new cars offer headlights that automatically turn on when sensors detect darker conditions, older cars might not feature this option.
The Importance of an Emergency Car Kit
The Eureka Fire Protection District also recommends several items that all drivers should keep in their vehicles. Always include a fire extinguisher, and keep this tool in the back of the car; in case of emergency, a fire extinguisher could save your life or the life of others.
Many drivers also carry a tool that allows them to cut the seat belt or break a car window for a quick escape during an accident or another emergency. An emergency kit also is recommended; during winter, pack blankets, gloves, and other gear. All emergency kits should include a first aid kit, flashlight, batteries, cell phone charger, jumper cables, and other necessities. Many stores and sites sell all-inclusive kits; parents could purchase one for new teen drivers.
Driving Safety Tips
Every driver has likely experienced an on-the-road emergency or problem. A flat tire or overheating engine happens unexpectedly. Instruct teens to pull over to the side of the road (somewhere safe) when they detect a flat tire; they also need to turn on their emergency flashers. This signals to police officers and other emergency personnel that help is needed. All teens need to practice how to change a tire; otherwise, parents should provide them with the number for roadside assistance (through AAA or an auto insurance plan).
When teen drivers notice that their car is overheating, the first indication is a soaring engine temperature. They need to know that they should pull over immediately. However, if they need to buy some time to reach a mechanic or get home (if they are close to home), teach teens to turn the heat to the highest temperature and use the highest setting for the fan (or blower). This pulls the heat from the engine into the cabin and can help prevent overheating. While it might be miserable during a hot summer day, it is effective.
Students embarking on their first solo drive to school might be excited about the newfound freedom. Parents might be apprehensive as their teen pulls out of the driveway for the first day of school. Review the safety checklist and the EFPD’s recommendations with them as they prepare to navigate the Eureka High School parking lot and claim their parking space.
About the Author:
Eureka Fire Protection District is an EMS, Fire, and Rescue service provider located in Eureka, Missouri. Staffed with nearly one hundred volunteer and career Paramedics, EMTs, Firefighters, Junior Firefighters, and administrative teams, the department provides its local community with fire prevention, education, safety resources, and emergency relief. Eureka Fire Protection District maintains a reputation as a well-run, high-performing fire department by keeping up to date with the latest in life-saving training and technology.