That dreaded day has finally arrived: your teen has come home with his learner’s permit, and now you have a whole new set of worries. How do you keep your child safe once he gets behind the steering wheel?
One of the first things you should do is understand exactly what risks are involved in letting your teen drive. Then you can set some guidelines that will help.
Common Characteristics of Teen Vehicle Crashes
Most vehicle crashes involving teens have been related to one or more of the following risk factors:
- Driver error
- Having three or more passengers
- Drinking alcohol beforehand
- Driving at night
- Distractions such as food, music, cell phones, GPS devices
Fatal crashes involving teens are related to one or more of the factors above, as well as not wearing seatbelts.
What You Can Do to Help Keep Your Teen Safe
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recommends the following tips for keeping your teen safe:
Driver education and training is certainly important, but it doesn’t mean that your teen is going to be a safe driver. Teen crashes often relate to the teen’s attitudes and decision-making skills. Teens tend to be more influenced by peer pressure and rebellion than advice from adults. Seeing themselves as immune to harm, they may speed or fail to use safety belts, regardless of training.
Actively help your teen learn to drive by planning driving sessions for at least six months. Start slowly, helping your teen to master driving in a variety of settings. Point out safety rules, signs, and potential hazards on the road. Emphasize the importance of paying attention at all times. You should help your teen work up to driving in heavy traffic, on the freeway, and at night. Supervised sessions should continue even after your teen gets his or her license.
Fatal crashes involving teens tend to occur between 9 pm and midnight. There are several reasons for this:
- Driving at night requires more skill than driving during the day.
- Late night outings tend to be recreational, leading to increased distraction and risk-taking.
Therefore, you would be wise to restrict your teens driving to no later than 9 pm, when possible.
You might also consider setting restrictions based on weather conditions, such as strong storms. Make sure your teen knows that safety comes first, even if their curfew is compromised because they pulled over to wait out a strong storm.
It’s not possible to know what your teen is doing when she is off somewhere in the car. Learn the rules in your state regarding passengers and teen drivers. You may even choose to further restrict your teen at certain times or in certain situations. Teens are more easily distracted and susceptible to peer pressure when there are more than two passengers in the car (something that greatly increases the risk of having a crash). Many states have graduated licensing rules that prohibit teens from driving with persons other than family members and restrict night driving. Enforce your own rules on these matters even if your state hasn’t made them law.
Talk to your teen about the serious consequences of speeding, like deadly crashes, costly tickets, and even revoked drivers' licences. You may choose to make your teen responsible for the cost of any speeding tickets they receive, as well as increases in your insurance rates. Remember that you are a role model for your teen, so make sure you obey all speed limits when you are driving.
Think about what vehicle would provide the most protection for your teen. Cars that are sporty or have performance images are likely to encourage speeding. Small cars may not offer as much protection as larger cars. Choose a vehicle that has the latest safety technology, such as side airbags and electronic stability control.
Consistent seatbelt use among teens is low. Therefore, encourage your teen to develop a habit of wearing a seatbelt. Every time your teen leaves the house in a vehicle, insist that he or she wear a seatbelt.
Make it clear to your teen that it is illegal and very dangerous to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Stress that even small amounts of alcohol or drugs can impair driving, even if he feels competent to drive. Tell your child to call you for a ride if she has been drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
If you personally speed, tailgate, or have other reckless driving habits, your teen is likely to imitate these habits. Road rage—even if it stays inside your own car—sets a bad precedent for the future driving habits of your child. Set a good example of how you want your teen to drive.
By taking an active role in teaching the right behavior while driving, you can decrease your child's chance of being a risky driver. You can find many parent-teen driving contracts online, like on the Automobile Association of America's
website. A contract can be a good way to talk about what your child's responsibilities are as a new driver.