Did you know that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths in the United States? In 2015, 2333 teens ages 16-19 were killed. 235,845 were treated for injuries at hospital emergency rooms. Teaching teens to drive safely and responsibly is a must. Parents spend years protecting their children from various dangers, on and off the road. Then comes the day when it is time for teens to learn to drive. As a parent, are you ready for that day? What can you do to protect them and teach them to be safe, aware, and responsible?
Your teen will see getting their driver’s license as a step toward freedom, and most of them will want it as soon as it is legal for them to obtain it. As a parent, you have to ask yourself if your teen is ready for that driver’s license? Nothing says that you must allow your teen to get a driver’s license the moment they become legally eligible. As a parent, you must decide if your teen is ready to have the same level of driving responsibility as adults. “Teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes, mainly because of their immaturity, lack of skills, and lack of experience. They speed, they make mistakes, and they get distracted easily – especially if their friends are in the car.” Ultimately, you get to decide when your teen gets their license. If they need more practice or more guidance, put off letting them get their license until you believe they are ready. Don’t allow peer pressure determine readiness.
To help teens stay safe behind the wheel, all fifty states have graduated driver licensing (GDL). These laws limit the high-risk driving situation for new drivers. These GDL laws can reduce teen car crash risk by 50%. Which is a great start, but as a parent you want to do everything you can to make your teen (and their passengers) as safe as possible. Here are a few suggestions to help your teen be a safe, responsible driver:
1. Each state’s GDL laws vary. Make sure you are familiar with the GDL laws of your state and know precisely what restrictions are placed on your new, teen driver. Understanding these laws lets you set ground rules for your teen from the very beginning. Some suggestions might be restricting night driving, limiting passengers, restrict using phones while driving, and of course using a seatbelt at all times.
2. Talk to your teen about drug and alcohol abuse and the use of controlled substance while driving. Inform them of the law regarding alcohol levels and what the legal consequences are of driving under the influence. Also, inform them of the consequences of such activity in your home. Let them know the rules and the consequences up front.
3. Be a good role model. As a driver, model the behavior you expect from your teen. If you use your phone while driving, telling your child not to do it will fall on deaf ears. Practice what you preach. Also, set aside time for driving practice with your teen so that you can help them understand “how” to drive.
4. Don’t solely rely on driver’s education. Your teen’s driving education begins at home. Pay attention, spend time teaching your teen about all aspects of driving. Remember, when you finally hand over the keys to the car you want your teen to be safe. It all starts with you as their parent.
5. Set consequences for breaking driving rules. Distracted driving is a significant issue with teens. “In a study analyzed by NHTSA, teen drivers were two-and-a-half times more likely to engage in one or more potentially risky behaviors when driving with one teenage peer, compared to when driving alone. According to the same study analyzed by NHTSA, the likelihood of teen drivers engaging in one or more risky behaviors when traveling with multiple passengers increased to three times compared to when driving alone.” If your teen breaks a distracted driving rule that you have set, consider suspending driving privileges, taking away their cell phone, or limit the hours they can drive. Remember, you are working to protect your child.
Working with new teen drivers and being involved in the whole process of their learning to drive and getting their license and afterward is critical. You want your child as safe as can be, so take a proactive approach when it comes to your teen driver. There are lots of resources out there for parents to use. Check with your State’s Department of Motor Vehicles to see what resources are available in your area. Remember it always comes down to these simple words: Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel. All the time.