Growing up fast
From the day they were born, you’ve protected your child from all sorts of dangers. And while it’s hard to believe that they are old enough to drive a car, it’s your job to protect them as much as you can as they take this next step toward adulthood. You may not be able to be with them each time they get behind the wheel, but there are things you can do to help them become a safe driver.
The statistics on teen driving are downright scary. Car crashes are the leading cause of death among US teens1. In 2015, car accidents claimed the lives of 2,333 teenagers ages 16-19, while 221,313 teens were treated for injuries suffered in car wrecks in 20141. It is sobering to think that each day in 2015, six teens lost their life in a car crash.
The good news is that these deaths and injuries are preventable. As a parent or guardian of a teen driver, read on for steps you can take to ensure that your teen driver doesn’t become a statistic.
Send them to driver’s ed training
You may have taught them how to ride a bike and cook dinner, but this may be the time to call in the professionals. Teaching your child how to drive can be nerve-wracking for both of you. Save your sanity and enroll your teen in a driver’s education course or a driving school.
There are many advantages to getting help with this important task. They’ll learn the rules of the road (including those obscure ones that you have forgot about), how to handle many different situations, and other important information like defensive driving techniques. You’ll get peace of mind that they are getting the skills and knowledge they need to be a safe driver.
Be a good example
Your child learns from you, so make sure you are teaching them good driving habits every time you get in your vehicle. Be sure that you always wear your seatbelt, always stow your cell phone away (no texting and driving), avoid tailgating, be courteous to other drivers even if they cut you off, and obey the rules of the road.
Don’t discount how your habits can influence your child. Be aware that they’re watching you and will mimic your actions. You can be sure that they’re thinking – if mom and dad drive like this, it must be okay.
All 50 states have a graduated licensing system with a supervised learning period and an intermediate period with restrictions before being granted a full privilege license. However, you know your child best and may find it helpful to set your own rules until you feel comfortable with your teen’s driving skills.
Instituting additional rules or keeping some of the rules of the graduated licensing system in effect longer, such as limiting the number of passengers and what time of day they can drive, can help safeguard your child while they gain additional experience behind the wheel. Consider creating a contract with your teen outlining the rules you agree upon and the consequences that will occur if any of the rules are broken.
Set them straight—driving is a privilege
Make sure that your teen understands that driving is a privilege that can be granted and taken away. Driving is not a right. Stress to your teen that this privilege comes with many responsibilities and can be rescinded at any time if any of the agreed-upon rules that you create are broken.
They must understand that even after they receive their license, they have to continually demonstrate that they are a safe driver by following the rules of the road. Every time they get in the driver’s seat, it’s an unofficial driving test. Obey the rules by driving safely – you pass; drive aggressively and get a ticket – you fail.
Surround them in safety
When your teen gets behind the wheel, make sure the vehicle they’re driving meets minimum safety standards. This likely won’t be an issue if your teen is driving a family vehicle, but it could come up if you decide to purchase your child a used vehicle.
Resist the temptation to buy a cheap older car for your teen. Instead strike a balance between price and safety features. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety publishes a list of affordable used vehicles to guide parents.
Engage in conversation
You may think that your kids don’t listen to you, but don’t let that stop you from talking to your teen about safe driving. It may be hard to start these conversations but your teen is listening – even if they don’t want to admit it. Cover topics such as drinking and driving, texting and cellphone use, drowsy driving and distracted driving.
Use daily events as a conversation starter. Discuss car wrecks that you see on the news or put an article in their backpack so it doesn’t seem like you’re nagging them all the time. Try talking to your spouse about a recent car crash so your teen is listening in – rather than being lectured. Doing this as part of everyday life can seem less daunting than having a formal sit-down talk.
Share the load
Practice makes perfect, so start to share driving duties with your teen. Send them on errands around town to give them a chance to hone their driving skills. Have them pick up their sister from softball practice, ask them to run to the store for milk or have them go to the post office to pick up a package.
These short trips will give them valuable driving time and will help them gain confidence in everyday driving situations. It can also give them a feeling of pride that they are helping out the household in a meaningful way.
Additional sources: 1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Teen Driving Statistics
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