After spending years protecting your children from all types of dangers on the road and off, now you face the prospect of handing them the keys to the family car. It’s time for them to learn to drive. Are you both prepared? Here’s some tips to help mold your teen into a responsible safe driver.
Before you hand the keys over to your teen driver, lay down ground rules for your aspiring teen driver. Educate yourself about the consequences of illegal alcohol use by minors, the benefits of seat belt use, the growing epidemic of distracted driving, and much more.
Your teen sees a driver’s license as a step toward freedom, but you might not be sure your teen is ready for the road. One thing is certain: teens aren’t ready to have the same level of driving responsibility as adults. Teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes, mainly because of their immaturity, lack of skills, and lack of experience. They speed, they make mistakes, and they get distracted easily –- especially if their friends are in the car.
Learn about your state’s graduated driver licensing (GDL), which is different for each state. If you understand the restrictions placed on your teen’s license in your state, you can better assist in enforcing those rules.
One in three teens who text say they have done so while driving. Is your teen one of them? Research has found that dialing a phone number while driving increases your teen’s risk of crashing by six times, and texting while driving increases the risk by 23 times. Talking or texting on the phone takes your teen’s focus off the task of driving, and significantly reduces his or her ability to react to a roadway hazard, incident, or inclement weather.
Distracted driving can take on many forms beyond texting and talking on a cell phone. Many teens may try to use their driving time to eat their morning breakfast or drink coffee, to apply makeup, or to change the radio station. Many teens are distracted by the addition of passengers in the vehicle. Any distraction is a dangerous distraction.
You can begin by setting a good example yourself with your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Texting and phone calls can wait until you get home.
Talk to your teen about your expectations and why they are important. If your teen breaks a distraction rule consider limiting driving or phone privileges.
In a study analyzed by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), teen drivers were two-and-a-half times more likely to engage in one or more potentially risky behaviors when driving with one teenage peer, compared to when driving alone. According to the same study analyzed by NHTSA, the likelihood of teen drivers engaging in one or more risky behaviors when traveling with multiple passengers increased to three times compared to when driving alone. In fact, research shows that the risk of a fatal crash goes up in direct relation to the number of teenagers in the car.
You can make sure you are familiar with your state’s GDL laws, which often restrict the number of passengers a teen can have in the car. You can also place your own restrictions on your teen driving with passengers. Make sure your teen follows these rules at all times. Consider limiting driving privileges or not allowing passengers to ride in your teen’s car for a period of time if your teen breaks a passenger rule.
Speeding is a critical safety issue for teen drivers. In 2019, it was a factor in 27% of the fatal crashes that involved passenger vehicle teen drivers (15-18 years old.) A study by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) found that from 2000-2011, teens were involved in 19,447 speeding-related crashes. There is also evidence from driving studies that teens’ speeding behavior increases over time, possibly as they gain confidence (Klauer et al., 2011; Simons-Morton et al., 2013). Teens should especially be aware of their speed during inclement weather, when they may need to reduce their speed, or with other road conditions, like construction zones or winding roads.
You can make sure you are a good role model, maintaining the speed limits. Hold off on buying your teen their own car. According to a study by the GHSA, teens are more inclined to speed in their own vehicles vs. driving the family car.
Drunk Driving and Drugs
Show your teen the grim stats. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens are more likely than anyone else to be killed in an alcohol-related crash. Even though the minimum legal drinking age in every state is 21, data shows 16% of 15- to 18-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2019 had been drinking. Drugs other than alcohol – illicit as well as prescribed and over-the-counter – can affect your teen’s driving, so be sure you and your teen talk about driving and drug use too.
If lucky enough to survive a crash as an impaired driver, your teenager will face the consequences of breaking the law. Those include a possible trip to jail, the loss of his or her driver’s license, and dozens of other expenses including attorney fees, court costs, other fines, and insurance hikes. Your teen will also stand to lose academic eligibility, college acceptance, and scholarship awards.
Share the sobering statistics and severe consequences of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Also, remind your son or daughter to never ride in a car with an impaired driver. Make sure your teen understands you will always come to pick them up regardless of the time or location.
Tragically, seat belt use is the lowest among teen drivers. In fact, the majority of teenagers involved in fatal crashes are unbuckled. In 2019, 45% of teen drivers who died were unbuckled. Even more troubling, when the teen driver involved in the fatal crash was unbuckled, nine out of 10 of the passengers who died were also unbuckled. As teens start driving and gradually gain independence, they don’t always make the smartest decisions regarding their safety. They may think they are invincible, that they don’t need seat belts. They may have a false notion that they have the right to choose whether or not to buckle up.
Make sure you set a good example, and always buckle your seatbelt and ask passengers in your car to buckle their seatbelts, too. Not only is seatbelt use the law, but it’s also one of the easiest and most effective actions in reducing the chances of death and injury in a crash. Help your teen understand why seat belts are so important (most importantly because seat belts prevent ejection from a vehicle), and that they must be worn in the front seat and the back seat, every trip, every time.
Although teen driver fatalities have declined over the years, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of teen deaths.
As a parent, you are the number one influence on your teen driver’s safety. Self-reported surveys show that teens whose parents impose driving restrictions and set good examples typically engage in less risky driving and are involved in fewer crashes.
Here’s how to get started shaping good driving habits in our teens:
- Start talking to your teen early, between 15-17 to set your expectations and rules for driving.
- Set a good example for your teen. For example, if you ask your teen to not use his or her phone while driving, make sure you do the same.
- Get it in writing. When your teenagers begin driving, set ground rules and outline the consequences for breaking them in a parent-teen contract like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Parent-Teen Driving Contract.
- Reinforce the rules. No cell phones, no passengers, no speeding, no alcohol, no driving when tired, and always buckle up. These rules could help save your teen’s life.
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About the Authors
Connie Greenwood has 35 years of experience as an Insurance Advisor. She enjoys helping her clients and prospects understand their insurance options, and crafting insurance solutions tailored to their unique needs. Connie finds great joy in being a trusted advisor for her clients. She loves helping protect their financial welfare against unforeseen accidents and circumstances and bringing them peace of mind.
Tim Pingel has almost 20 years of experience as a personal insurance adviser. He provides individuals, couples, and families with home, auto, and umbrella insurance. His ultimate goal is to be his clients’ trusted adviser and expert, so they have the peace of mind and protection they deserve.