Driving a car is a "right of passage" for many teens. However, understandably, tossing junior the car keys can bring on severe anxiety for parents. But it can be a positive and memorable occasion as well.
The single best thing parents can do to prepare a teen to drive on his own is to practice, practice, practice, says John Ulczycki, group vice president at the National Safety Council. “If you think about driving as a learning curve, the more practice kids get driving, the faster they move across that learning curve and the more confidence they get,” Ulczycki says.
Here are five more simple rules that will help protect your teen on the road—and give you peace-of-mind:
1. Keep the invite list short
Statistically, teenagers are more likely to crash with others in the car. “With each additional passenger that you add to a car, you are significantly increasing your car crash risk,” Ulczycki says. Set limits on how much and when your child can ride with or transport other teenagers. For instance, a good rule to consider might be restricting your teenager to driving alone (or with an adult) for six months after receiving her driver’s license. Teenagers who do drive others can limit distractions by regulating noise in the car (voices, radio) and keeping their eyes focused solely on the road.
2. Drive during the day
Almost half of auto accidents involving teenagers – 41 percent – occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Nighttime driving impairs vision and a driver’s ability to judge distance and speed, not to mention the presence of more impaired and unsafe drivers than during the day. Ulczycki says that parents should spend more time practicing nighttime driving with their teens. Similar to the last tip, you might consider limiting your teen to daytime driving for an initial period of time--at least until they’ve proven themselves behind the wheel.
3. Limit technology
A decade ago, this tip would have been something like, “Don’t fiddle with the radio while driving.” But the explosion of mobile technology has brought on a whole slew of new distractions to teen drivers and passengers. Despite laws in more than 35 states banning texting while driving (Note: Not yet in Arizona), research shows that the practice is still widespread. Teenagers exchange five times the number of texts as older drivers (30+), and many don’t stop when they get in the car. Recently, an anonymous Centers for Disease Control survey found that 58 percent of high school seniors and 43 percent of juniors had texted or emailed in the previous month while driving.
Consider setting a hard-line rule for your teen against any mobile phone use while in the car, or telling them to pull over if they need to make a call or send a text.
4. Buckle up
Seat belt use among all drivers is much more common today than it was even 30 years ago, and the decline in car fatalities since then proves it. Even still, parents must insist that their teens buckle up every time they get into a car – even if the drive is short. Bottom line: seat belts save lives. Still, teens are slightly less likely to buckle their seat belts, either while driving or as passengers, than the rest of the population. In 2010, 44 percent of teen drivers killed in accidents were found to have been wearing a seat belt. Of teen passengers who died in 2010, just 29 percent were strapped in. Parents should help their teens understand the importance of practicing safety as a passengers every bit as much as when they are driving.
5. Don’t drink
Fewer teens are drinking today (40 percent) than in 1980 (72 percent). However, that doesn’t stop some teens from operating a vehicle while intoxicated — or riding with someone who is. Drinking and driving is not only illegal, it’s unsafe. Consider helping your teen come up with a response she’s comfortable giving to turn down alcohol, and insist that she never get into a vehicle with anyone who’s been drinking. We cannot control everything our teens do once they leave the house.
As is our responsibility in all facets of their early lives, we can TEACH them the right ways and the wrong ways, and hope (and pray) that they remember the important parts when they leave our nest. Attentiveness and diligence thereafter are the key. Listen and pay attention. And, pray.