Keep Your Teen Drivers Safe
Obtaining a driver’s license is still one of the more anticipated rites of passage for adolescents, but in recent years fewer teens have been getting their driver’s licenses. A Federal Highway Administration report with data from 2014 found that there were fewer 16-year-old drivers in the United States than at any other time since the 1960s. The trend though may be moving back toward a pro-driving stance–a recent study found that 92 percent of Generation Z teens plan to own a vehicle and 97 percent plan to get a driver’s license.
Teen driving is one of the most overlooked dangers our kids face. On the one hand, a driver’s license signifies an end to the endless chauffeuring that is a hallmark of kids’ younger years, and this brings some welcome relief to parents. On the other hand, teen driving leads to no shortage of anxiety about the dangers than come with inexperienced drivers.
HOW PARENTS CAN KEEP TEEN DRIVERS SAFE
While there is no guarantee your teen can avoid being involved in an accident while driving or while riding in a car being driven by another teen, you can help minimize the risks involved.
- Be intentional. Develop a plan for keeping your teen driver safe and implement it. Don’t just assume that everything will work out okay without a plan in place. Don’t put it off. Because the risks involved in teen driving are so daunting, being intentional about a plan is the only reasonable way to minimize the risks.
- Set clear expectations and consequences. This is one area of parenting that your teen’s safety, perhaps even his life and the lives of his friends depend upon. Sit down with your teen and hash out the details together. Some areas for setting limits include:
- Driving permission. When will it be okay for your teen to drive? When will it not be okay? Some states limit teen driving during certain hours, so know what your state requires. Late afternoon, evening, and night driving carry higher risks for teen drivers. Seek to minimize driving during these times as much as possible. Set standards for your teen riding along in other teen-driven vehicles as well.
- Who can go along? Many states use a graduated licensing system that prohibits and/or limits when teens can drive with other teenagers in the vehicle. Make sure you know and follow your state’s laws. You might even choose to place your own tougher limits than your state requires because distracted driving is such a huge contributor to car crashes among all age groups. Teen drivers are six times more likely to have a serious driving incident when there are loud conversations in the vehicle, and the need to hard brake the vehicle doubles when there are rowdy passengers on board.
- Notification. Do you want your teen to notify you before she gets behind the wheel? How about when she is going to ride in a vehicle driven by another teen? Do you want to be notified when your teen arrives at the destination? All of these issues should be considered and determined ahead of time.
- Speeding. Obviously you don’t want your teen driver to speed. That’s a given. Yet, the reality is that 71 percent of teens admit to speeding. So what will happen if they are caught violating the speed limit?
- Risky driving. This is another obvious no-no. Understand, however, that your teen’s brain is wired for risk-taking, and at the urging of other teen passengers, his otherwise good judgment can go out the window. Of course, you don’t want him or his passengers to go out the window in a crash, so by all means, discuss your expectations for risky driving before he gets his driver’s license.
- Smartphone Use. In recent years, many states have limited or prohibited use of smartphones while driving, so be aware of what your state’s laws require. I suggest a policy of not allowing teens to use smartphones while driving. Period. This means no receiving calls (even from you), no placing calls (even to you), no checking notifications and social media, and no composing, reading, or sending text messages. FOMO (fear of missing out) is not an adequate reason for threatening one’s own life and the lives of others.
- Alcohol/drug usage. This is another obvious “not allowed.” Any violation should give rise to an appropriately severe consequence.
- Seat belt usage. No seatbelt, no driving, no exceptions. That is the best policy and, in many states, the law.
- Practice, practice, practice. Driving skills are improved through driving experience. Don’t rush the process. The driver’s license can wait awhile. Make sure you give your teen hours and hours (some experts suggest between fifty and a hundred hours over a six-month period) of driving practice supervised by you or another responsible
CREATE A CAR-DRIVING CONTRACT
Teens need expressed expectations, and driving is no exception. On the next page is a sample contract adapted from a “Dear Abby” column years ago.
I, (_______), agree to the following “rules of the road.” If at any time I violate this agreement, my driving privileges will be forfeited.
1. Traffic Tickets: I agree to pay all traffic violations on time and to pay for any increase in my insurance premiums.
2. Accidents: If I am in an accident or damage the car, I agree to pay for all damages not covered by insurance.
3. Drinking or Drug Use: At no time will I ever drink alcohol or use drugs while driving.There will be no alcohol or drugs in the car ever. I will not let anyone into my car who has been drinking unless my parents have approved it.
4. Passengers: I will never allow more passengers in the car than there are seat belts for, and I will never allow a stranger in the car. I will not pick up hitchhikers.
5. Car cleanliness: Driving the car is a privilege and I will be responsible to keep the car clean as well as check the gas and oil regularly.