For many teens, learning to drive is one of the biggest rites of passage they’ll experience before becoming full-fledged adults. It’s exciting and offers them previously unheard-of levels of freedom and autonomy. However, it’s also dangerous and parents should take steps to raise teen driver safety awareness.
Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of accidental death in teenagers, and also account for a large number of injuries in the same age group.
Your teen may or may not spend a lot of time thinking about their own mortality in connection with driving, but as the parent of a driving-age teen, you probably think about it more than you’re comfortable with. While your teen’s reaction time and reflexes are probably as fast as they’ll ever be, their inexperience and impulsiveness can lead to poor decision making that put them in danger while driving. And teens can be resistant to lectures and advice about the importance of driving safely. So what can you do to help ensure that your teen takes driving safely seriously?
Here are ways parents can help raise teen driver safety awareness.
Meet Your Teen Where They Are When Discussing Teen Driver Safety Awareness
Teenagers want to be taken seriously. By the time they’re old enough to drive, they often consider themselves basically adults, and they don’t appreciate being talked down to or treated like children. And, to be fair, a teen who is old enough to drive really is only a few short years from being a legal adult. So, the approach that you take with them when discussing teen driver safety matters. Your teen is less likely to take you seriously when you talk to them about driving safely if the conversation is a one-way lecture.
Instead, approach your conversations about teen driver safety like a real conversation. Ask for your teen’s input about reasonable rules and restrictions that will help keep them safe while driving, and make sure that you really listen to what they have to say. Being a new driver can be scary, and beneath their teen bravado and excitement about being able to drive, your teen really might have a few fears and insecurities about their own driving ability and may have some good ideas to contribute.
Consider using a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement (you can create your own or find one online, such as this one offered by the CDC) as a way to outline and solidify your rules and expectations for your teen driver. Asking your teen to contribute to and sign a contract shows that you consider your teen to be enough of an adult to agree to and hold up their end of a contract and that you’re willing to do the same. They may take that more seriously than a one-way list of rules.
Enroll in a Driving Education Program Together
In a few states, parents are required to complete a driver’s education program as part of the Graduated Driver’s License requirement for teens. While parents in most states are not required to do this, it’s not a bad idea to look for educational programs aimed at parents of teen drivers while your teen is learning to drive, or even to enroll in a driver safety course together with your teen.
Programs aimed at parents of teen drivers can help you learn about the real challenges facing teenagers behind the wheel and how you can handle them while offering support for your experience as the parent of a new driver. For example, many parents imagine that drinking and driving is the biggest threat to their teen driver’s safety and focus on that danger. But, while drinking and driving is a real risk, today’s teens are more likely to get into an accident because they’re texting and driving than because they’re drinking and driving. That means that parents may want to focus more on ensuring that their teens know about the dangers of using their cell phones while driving.
Enrolling yourself and your teen in a driver safety safety awareness course together is also a good way to make sure that you’re updated on the rules of the road as you help your teen practice driving. After all, it’s probably been a while since you took your own driving test, and getting a refresher course certainly can’t hurt. You’ll probably spend more driving time with your teen than their driver’s education instructor, and the last thing that you want to do is unintentionally pass on bad habits.
Know and Enforce The Graduated Driver’s License Rules
Most states have some type of Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) program in place. Instead of transitioning from a learner’s permit to a full standard license, a GDL puts some steps in between to more slowly transition teens from student drivers to drivers will full privileges. In some states, this means a curfew – for example, in Florida, 16-year-olds can’t drive between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am, and 17-year-olds can’t drive between the hours of 1 am and 5 am. In other states, this means limiting the passengers that teens can have in their cars. In Maryland, for instance, teens are not allowed to have passengers in the car who are under the age of 18 for the first 5 months of having their license.
Because GDL rules vary from state to state, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your state’s laws concerning underage drivers. Your teen may receive a citation or another consequence if they’re caught breaking GDL rules, but realistically, states must rely on parents to enforce these rules, because it’s impossible for a police officer to catch every infraction. GDL rules exist for a reason – inexperienced teen drivers are statistically more likely to get into accidents if they’re driving very late at night or with multiple other teens in their vehicle – so knowing and enforcing your state’s GDL restrictions helps keep your teen safe.
Becoming a driver is probably important to your teenager. And having a teen driver in the house can be beneficial for you as well! But from a parent’s perspective, it’s important that your teen becomes a safe driver.
You can help raise teen driver safety awareness by taking steps to make sure that your teen understands the safety rules of the road and is incentivized to make driving safety a priority.