Each big milestone in your child’s life is often cause for celebration and bittersweet nostalgia. Sometimes, though, like when your teen starts to drive, that excitement is mixed with fear for their safety.
Once your child starts the stage of driving, their safety becomes part of their control and no longer yours. It’s an exhilarating time for everyone involved and emotions are high. While your teen sees their freedom dangling in front of them waiting to be explored, you see potential accidents and high insurance premiums.
It’s perfectly common and normal to feel stressed when your child gets behind the wheel of a car. But instead of letting that anxiety and fear rule your relationship, you should do the best you can to take control in a smart, rational way. There are some things that you can do to reduce the risk of your teen getting in an accident, and by implementing these ten policies for you and your new driver.
The first mistake that many parents of new drivers make is assuming their teen understands the responsibility they undertake when getting behind the wheel. Most of them, no matter how responsible, can’t fully comprehend the seriousness involved in driving because, quite simply, they don’t have the life experience that we do – they’re not as old.
While you don’t want to pop their bubble completely, you also want to ensure that they have an idea of the solemnity of their new privilege – and yes, remind them, it’s a privilege, not a right, and it can be taken away if they abuse it.
To do this, follow these ten simple teen driving guidelines:
1. Let them do the research. The statistics don’t lie: The National Safety Council says that a solid 50% of all teens will be involved in a car accident before they even graduate high school. That’s a big number.
Luckily, most of these accidents are minor fender benders or don’t result in serious injury, but some do, and you don’t want your child to be among that number. By sitting with them while they do the research and talking about the many different things to be aware of on the road to avoid accidents, you are helping your child become “book smart” about things before they are placed in that situation.
Little things we pick up over years of driving, such as not to use cruise control on wet roads or in the rain, are unknown to them. Even though you will likely receive a lot of eye rolls, sit down with your child in front of a computer or smart phone and take thirty minutes or so to talk to them about the statistics of teenage accidents and what to do in common dangerous situations.
2. Encourage your child’s practice time before they go out on their own. For many parents, letting your child drive while you are in the passenger seat is akin to one of Dante’s nine circles in the Inferno. They’re riding the car in front of them too close and you’re slamming on the invisible brake. They’re going too slow and everyone is passing them and blowing their horns. Meanwhile, you’re either biting your tongue painfully or the two of you are bickering and stressed.
But it doesn’t matter. Your child needs to have supervised you in multiple driving scenarios for a minimum of 30 hours, while you inform them of what you are doing and why. Then they need to spend a minimum of 30 hours behind the wheel with you supervising – after all, who is the best person to learn from if not the one who cares about their safety the most?
Your teen is going to have a lot of hours driving without you, even while they are just learning. Don’t let them get their learner’s permit or license and then learn how to drive with a sink or swim method.
3. Require driver’s ed classes before he or she can drive without you. In some areas this class is free; in some it requires an investment, but the time and money you and your child put in to driver’s education courses pays off exponentially.
Your teen will get an education in expert driving safety by someone they may listen to more than they will you. If anything, the knowledge you’ve been trying to instill in them before they hit the road will be reinforced by someone else. And teens who have successfully taken a driver’s ed course often get a bonus in lower insurance premiums, so it’s a win/win for you.
4. Model and require seatbelts. Sure, it’s the law, but that does not mean that everyone follows it. In fact, next to speeding on the road, not wearing your seatbelt is one of the biggest broken laws in the country.
How most teens handle the seatbelt law will usually depend on how that law was handled for their previous 15 or 16 years. You need to model good seatbelt habits to instill them in your child, or they will likely slack in this area, too.
Let them see the statistics: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, teens from the age of 13 to 20 who died in car accidents in 2013 may have been able to prevent their death had they been wearing a seatbelt. Why chance it? Not only is it the law, but it may save a life.
5. Explain the effects of speeding. Again, a commonly broken law is that of speeding. You may even be guilty of it yourself. But this minor infraction can have major consequences.
Almost half of accidents involving teen drivers that resulted in fatalities were caused by speeding. The legal ramifications of this are extensive, and your child needs to understand them. If they were speeding and caused an accident, and that accident killed someone, they could be in serious legal trouble. In fact, their lives as they know it could be over just as surely as the other person’s.
Most parents will discuss the part of speeding where you can get a ticket, points on your license, etc., but when it comes to having that real down and dirty, painful conversation about the legalities involved in causing an accident, it’s easy to avoid it until it’s too late.
6. Model and teach defensive driving skills. Defensive driving is a skill that must be modeled and taught. This includes things like the three-second rule, ensuring you can see the car’s tires in front of you when you stop at a stop light, and staying at least one car length behind the car in front of you when you are driving.
Things we take for granted as common sense were once things that we had to learn, and so do our children. When you take the time to teach them before they happen, you can help your child avoid an accident.
7. Come up with an alternative to drinking and driving. Even more dangerous than speeding and causing an accident is drinking and doing this. Talk about the seriousness of drinking and driving and come up with an agreement to prevent this from happening.
Even if your child assures you that they don’t drink and would never drink and drive, neither of you can predict the future and don’t know how they would act if they were ever put in that situation.
These values don’t stop just because they are no longer a teen. How you teach your child about drinking and driving, and how you model those lessons, will extend far into their adult years.
8. Set rules for when other teens are allowed to be passengers. Your new driver needs to limit distractions and having their friends in the car with them is a huge distractor. They now have a responsibility for their own lives and others’, and they probably also feel the need to showcase how grown up they are.
No matter how safe your child is, be sure they have lots of experience in driving and have instilled solid safety habits into their subconscious driving abilities before you allow other teens to ride with them. Even then, set rules for when, where, and how far they are allowed to go while being responsible for another teen’s safety.
9. Push distraction-free driving. Not only is having a friend in the car a distraction, but so are many other things. The majority of states in the U.S., including California, have distracted driving laws. This means that anything that distracts you from the road can be cause for a ticket, or worse.
Texting, calling someone, eating, or using the phone at all are considered distractions. Safety trumps privacy with your new teen driver, so keep an eye on their texting and phone habits. Help them set an auto response from any of multiple free apps so that texts don’t come through when they’re driving.
Above all, model this form of distraction-free driving yourself.
10. Work with your teen to compile a car safety kit. While many parents will put a car safety kit in their child’s vehicle, not many will take the time to work with their new driver to explain what that kit includes.
Instead of putting the safety kit in the car and telling your child where it is, take the time to compile the items together and explain the situations in which each item might be used and how to use it. You never want the need to occur, but if it does and your child doesn’t know how to use something that could save their life, it’s too late to explain it then.
Even with all of these policies and extensive planning and research, nothing can account for every scenario on the road. Sometimes it’s just not their fault, and they are innocent victims of someone else’s neglectful driving.
If your teen was injured in a car accident, call Hershey Law for your free consultation to see how you can help protect your child’s rights and get them the compensation and benefits they deserve.