Step-by-step guide to help your teen be a safe driver

April 09, 2021 | by Peter Petratos, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Your teen is finally old enough to learn how to drive, but thinking about them behind the wheel can be scary. You understand the risks and dangers involved. But does your teen?

Teenagers lack the experience and skills of adult drivers. They may drive too fast and get distracted easily, especially if their peers are in the car. They may think they are invincible and take more risks.

As a result, teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes. Half of all teens will be involved in a car crash before graduating from high school, and motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. But this is a preventable issue.

As a parent, you play a key role in helping your teen be safe on the road. Before you hand over the keys to the family car, take these 10 steps to help your teen be a safe driver:

  1. Provide enough driving experience. The crash risk is highest during the first year that teen drivers have their license. Driver inexperience is a leading cause. Your teen will need plenty of supervised driving practice (30-50 hours) over at least six months. Don't rely solely on a driver's education class. Ride with your teen on different roads, at different times of day and in different weather conditions.

  2. Review the rules of the road. Know the laws in Illinois for new drivers and create a “Parent-Teen Driving Agreement” together, or a set of written rules about safe driving practices, such as limiting passengers, abiding by a nighttime curfew, and not engaging in risky behaviors. Share the leading causes of teen crashes and injuries. Create consequences for breaking the rules, such as taking away driving privileges, their cell phone, etc.

  3. Limit teen passengers. Crash risk goes up when teens drive with other teens in the car. Research shows teen drivers are nearly three times more likely to engage in one or more risky behaviors when driving with teenage peers than when driving alone. Limit one teen passenger in the car for at least the first six months. See Illinois rules.

  4. Set a nighttime curfew. For all ages, fatal crashes are more likely at night, but the risk is higher for teens. Practice nighttime driving with them. Restrict your teen’s driving at night and set a nighttime curfew of 9 or 10 p.m. for at least the first six months. See Illinois rules.

  5. Enforce the seat belt rule. Seat belt use is lowest among teen drivers. Require your teen to wear a seat belt on every trip, every time, as it can reduce the risk of being badly injured or dying in a crash by about half. Give reminders from time to time, such as a sticky note in the car.

  6. Beware of distracted driving. Distractions increase your teen’s risk of being in a crash. Taking their eyes off the road even for five seconds could cost a life. Prohibit activities that will distract your teen while he/she is driving, such as talking on a cell phone, texting, applying makeup, eating or changing the radio station.

  7. Talk about impaired driving. Teens are more likely than anyone else to be killed in an alcohol-related crash. Explain that driving while impaired is illegal (they could face jail time and other penalties) and it puts lives at risk. Remind them that it’s never safe to ride in a car with someone who has been drinking or using drugs, and that they can always call you for a safe ride home.

  8. Promote a good night’s sleep. Young drivers are at high risk for drowsy driving, especially in the early morning or late at night, which causes thousands of crashes every year. Establish a regular bedtime and limit screen time before bed to be sure your teen is well rested before getting behind the wheel.

  9. Be a good role model. Teens learn from watching their parents. Be consistent in what you tell your teen and your own driving behaviors. Don’t speed. Always wear your seat belt. Never drink or use any drugs before getting behind the wheel.

  10. Have regular safety conversations. Parental involvement doesn't end when your teen gets his/her license. Keep the lines of communication open and provide safety reminders. Ride with your teen occasionally to monitor his/her driving skills.

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