Father handing son car keys (© kali9/Getty Images)Click to enlarge picture

Thousands of teens die each year in auto collisions. Your involvement when teaching your teen to drive will greatly reduce the risks of injury or death in an accident.

Before you toss your teen driver the keys to the family car for a run to the beach, know this: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 16- to 19-year-olds in the United States, accounting for a full 25 percent of total deaths in that age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On top of that, the frequency of auto crash fatalities for teen drivers and passengers typically peaks in July and August, when it is almost 40 percent higher than its annual low point in midwinter.

For teen drivers, the summer months can be perilous. School is out and teens typically spend more time driving and lead less-structured lives. This added time behind the wheel means teens have more opportunities to get into trouble on the road. Teens are already a high-risk group: The fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16- to 19-year-olds is three times that of older drivers. Experts say that while immaturity and simple inexperience will always expose young drivers to more risk, there are simple steps parents can take to help teens avoid the situations that most frequently lead to accidents.

Those steps are already paying off. Young drivers in the U.S. are more safe now than ever. Since 1996, fatal and police-reported crashes have fallen by more than 68 percent for 16-year-old drivers, by 56 percent for 17-year-olds and by 47 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 by states of graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws, according to Anne McCartt, senior vice president of research at IIHS and author of several studies on teen driving.

Search Bing: Graduated driver licensing

"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."

Graduated driver licensing laws — which encourage more supervised practice time, limit night driving and reduce driver distraction by keeping other teens out of cars driven by inexperienced drivers — can serve 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 Safety Administration and driving instruction professionals produced this list of driving practices and rules that parents can use to create a safer driving environment for teens.

Always wear a seat belt
Teen drivers have a lower rate of seat belt use than older drivers. The NHTSA reports that 55 percent of the 2,405 teen passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes in 2011 were not belted. Remind young drivers that wearing a seat belt is the best way to protect themselves and passengers from severe injury or death.

Watch Video:  Protecting teen drivers

Zero alcohol tolerance
Teens are less likely than adults to drive after drinking alcohol, but their crash risk is substantially higher when they do. Even though they cannot legally purchase alcohol, 29 percent of teen drivers killed in 2011 were drinking, according to a CDC study. Also remind teenagers that the consequences of an arrest for driving under the influence could include a trip to jail, loss of driving license, stiff fines, attorney fees and loss of scholarships and academic eligibility.

Follow your state's GDL law
Three-stage GDL laws help reduce the exposure of young drivers to high-risk situations by making sure teens gradually build up driving experience and skills under lower-risk conditions by limiting night driving, restricting teen passengers and requiring more supervised practice. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have a three-stage GDL system, but the specific requirements are determined by each state. States with the most restrictive laws have greater reductions in teen driver deaths than states with weak laws, according to the IIHS, which has produced an interactive guide to GDL rules in each state. If the GDL law in your state is weak, consider adopting the tougher standards of another state as your "family" GDL law.