Teachable Moments: Starting the Conversation About Driving With Teens

November 21, 2013

Last week I had an opportunity to talk with fellow nurses at the 11th Annual Conference for Pediatric Surgical and Trauma Nursing at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) on teen driving safety. I spoke with nurses working in emergency departments, intensive care units, trauma clinics and surgical units about teen crash prevention. While clinical care for a teen injured in a motor vehicle crash is an important topic to address, I instead took the opportunity to highlight how we as nurses can play a critical role in educating teens and their families about teen driver safety so that further tragedies can be prevented.

Nurses are in a key position to help reduce the impact of teen motor vehicle crashes. Drawing from my research in adolescent injury prevention at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, teen driver safety research at CIRP, and resources such as Miles to Go, a national teen driver safety report, I shared why teen crashes happen and the risk factors that contribute to crashes, including inexperience, speeding, impaired driving, peer passengers, inattention, and distraction. Nurses in a variety of settings are well-positioned to put teens and their driving at the center of “teachable moments” to help prevent teen crashes.

These “teachable moments” in a hospital setting are wonderful opportunities to have a conversation with teens about teen driver safety and are much like those that can occur in the school nurse’s office or in a healthcare provider’s office for an annual wellness visit or sports physical. These “teachable moments” include hearing from teens about their driving behaviors and providing education on safe driving, such as:

  • Screening for risky driving behaviors. These include alcohol use, driving at night, speeding, not using a seat belt, and driving with multiple passengers. Screening can help give an understanding of a teen’s current driving behaviors.
  • Sharing educational resources. Both teens and parents can be the target for educational resources. The Teen Driver Safety research team at CIRP offers a multitude of fact sheets and other handouts on safe driving behaviors, such as always wearing a seat belt, driving within the speed limit, limiting the number of passengers, and not driving late at night, as well as tips to help parents and teens work together during the learning-to-drive period and beyond.
  • Discussing how parents need to stay involved even after the learner permit phase. There’s a good reason it is called a “probationary license.” During this crucial time when first driving independently, teens still need guidance to develop the necessary skills and experience to become safe, competent drivers. Parents can help by setting and enforcing house rules for driving, continuing to model safe driving behaviors, and knowing where their teens are driving, who will be riding along, and when they will be back.