That dreaded day has finally arrived. Your teen has come home with a learner’s permit, and now you have a whole new set of worries. How do you keep your teen safe once they get 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 need to set some guidelines and rules that will help your teen learn responsible driving habits.
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 3 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:
Don’t Count only on Driver Education and Training
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. Continue to discuss these issues with your teen driver.
Plan Practice Sessions
Actively help your teen learn to drive by planning driving sessions for at least 6 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 their license.
Don’t Let Your Teen Drive Late at Night
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.
You may want to restrict your teen to daytime driving until their skills improve.
You might also consider setting restrictions based on weather conditions, such as heavy rain, snow, or ice. Make sure your teen knows that safety comes first, even if their curfew is compromised because they pulled over to wait out bad weather.
Restrict the Number of Passengers in Your Teen’s Car
It’s not possible to know what your teen is doing when they are 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 2 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.
Choose a Safe Vehicle for Your Teen
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.
Insist That Your Teen Wear a Seatbelt
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 they wear a seatbelt.
Talk to Your Teen About Drinking, Drug Use, and Driving
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 they are competent to drive. Keep communications lines open. Tell your teen to call you for a ride when they or their driver (a friend or another adult) has been drinking or taking drugs.
Set a Good Example
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 teen. 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 teen'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 teen's responsibilities are as a new driver.
Behind the wheel: helping teens become safe drivers. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/safety/Pages/Behind-the-Wheel-Helping-Teens-Become-Safe-Drivers.aspx. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed June 6, 2016.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Beginning teenage drivers. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website. Available at: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/brochures/beginning-teen-drivers. Accessed June 6, 2016.
Rules of the road for teen drivers. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/road-rules.html. Accessed June 6, 2016.
10/30/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Ginsburg KR, Durbin DR, García-España JF, Kallicka EA, Winston FK. Associations between parenting styles and teen driving, safety-related behaviors and attitudes. Pediatrics. 2009;124(4):1040-1051.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 6/6/2016