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In the United States more than 5,000 teens die each year in auto collisions. Your involvement in teaching your teen to drive will greatly reduce the risks of injury or death in an accident.

Before you toss your teenager the keys to the family car for a run to the beach, know this: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death — 33 percent — among 13-to-19-year-olds in the United States. The frequency of auto crash fatalities for teen drivers and passengers peaks in July and August, up almost 40 percent over its annual low point in mid-winter.

For teen drivers, the summer months can be a perilous time. School is out. They are typically spending more time driving and leading less-structured lives (i.e., fooling around). When you consider teens are already a high-risk group — the crash rate per mile driven for 16-to-19-year-olds is four times that of older drivers — that added time behind the wheel means more chances to get into trouble on the road. Experts say that while immaturity and simple inexperience behind the wheel will always expose young drivers to more risks, there are some simple steps parents can take to help teens avoid the situations that most frequently lead to accidents.

The steps are already paying off. Young drivers in the United States are probably safer today than they have ever been in the past. Since 1996, both fatal and police-reported crashes have fallen by more than 40 percent for 16-year-old drivers, 25 percent for 17-year-olds, and 19 percent for 18-year-olds, according to statistics compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization supported by the insurance industry.

The key factor behind the dramatic decline in teen driving fatalities and accidents is the adoption of graduated drivers licensing laws by the states, according to Anne McCartt, vice president of research at the IIHS and author of several studies on the subject of teen driving.

"Vehicles are safer, drunk-driving laws are tougher, and more people are using seat belts, each of which contributes to the reduction in fatalities," McCartt says. "But for young drivers the adoption of GDL laws, and the corresponding awareness among parents about teen driving risk factors, has been significant. It's also a fact that the states with the toughest GDL laws have the lowest rate of fatal and nonfatal crashes by teen drivers."

The premise of GDL laws — which encourage more supervised practice time, limit night driving and reduce driver distraction by keeping other teenagers out of cars driven by inexperienced drivers — serves as a template for parents seeking ways to create a safer environment for young drivers. Combining GDL concepts with ideas offered by the IIHS, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and driving-instruction professionals, we produced this list of driving practices and rules parents can use to create a safer driving environment for teens.

Always Wear a Seat Belt. Remind young drivers that wearing a seat belt is the number one way they can protect themselves and passengers from severe injury or death. Teen drivers have a lower rate of seat belt use than older drivers. In 2007, more than half of the 4,540 people under age 20 killed in motor vehicle crashes were not wearing a seat belt, according to NHTSA.

Zero Alcohol Tolerance. Even though they cannot legally purchase alcohol, almost one-third of the teen drivers killed in 2007 had a blood alcohol content of .01 or higher. Remind teenagers that the consequences of a DUI could also include a trip to jail, loss of driving license, stiff fines, attorney fees and loss of scholarships and academic eligibility.