Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Reading that is enough to make any parent’s stomach drop. We all want our teens to come home safely each day, but how can we help them do that without interfering with their newfound independence? Here are some approaches to help your teen learn to be a safe driver:
- Set a good example. This time of year is a more dangerous time for adult and teen drivers alike, with extra holiday parties, dances, sports events, and more. Set a good example for your teen by choosing a designated driver or taking a cab for occasions when you will drink alcohol. Reflect on your current bad habits such as texting and driving or not wearing a seatbelt and change those habits immediately.
- Create a driving agreement or set some rules. The Centers for Disease Control has a sample parent-teen driving agreement to use. Even if you don’t use the agreement, set rules for your teens in advance about their driving. You might limit the number of passengers or limit the hours per week. Many states, including North Carolina, have Graduated Driver Licensing now, which puts similar restrictions on young drivers.
- Outline punishment in advance for breaking the rules. The rules work best when teens know exactly when will happen to them if they disobey. Obviously, restricting them from driving at all is a good one to include.
- Practice makes perfect. The more they drive, the better they get. Each state has rules about how many hours a teen must spend driving to earn a license, but it never hurts to practice more than required. One of our patients offered this great online rescource that she used with her grand-daughter. The website has state-specific practice tests that are a huge help to those learning or needing a re-fresh!
- Focus on critical skills. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, parents tend to teach kids how to handle the vehicle and parallel park but focus less on what will save a life. Teach your teen to think about gap awareness, which is knowing when you can safely squeeze in when changing lanes or turn left ahead of oncoming traffic. Teach him or her how to merge safely on the Interstate. As they progress, have them practice on more difficult streets and in bad weather. Here is a checklist of skills to learn and here are more useful tips for how to approach driving lessons with your teen.
- Emphasize seat belts. Although teens are known for not listening to parents, the more you focus on seat belts, the more they have a shot at actually wearing them. According to a 2008 study done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 80 percent of teens said they wear a seatbelt because their parents insisted they do so when they were young.
- Teach them to limit distractions. Some parents require their teen to put their cell phone in the glove box. (Not a bad idea for some parents, either.) Whether it’s the radio, a cell phone, or passengers (which is why they are restricted in GDLs), distractions can often lead to car accidents. Teach your child to get into the car with the mindset that driving is the thing you are doing.
Learn more from the CDC about safe driving for teens. If you have taught your teen to drive, what ideas worked well for you? Share on our Facebook page.