Summer is ending, and most schools have reopened their doors for the fall. As a parent, you might be feeling a whirlwind of emotions. You’re probably busy dealing with everything that the end of summer brings: increased traffic on the roads, school uniform and book purchases, homework prep, and more. As a parent of a teen driver, you are also likely thinking about ways to keep your child safe on the road.
Traffic accidents are the second leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. Teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes than adults, and the risk is higher among teens aged 16-19 than any other age group. In 2019 alone, nearly 2,400 teenagers in the U.S. lost their lives in traffic accidents, and about 258,000 received emergency treatment for accident-related injuries.
Why do teens get in accidents more often than adults? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Report on Teen Driving attributes high accident rates to risk factors such as inexperience, speeding, and driving while distracted. As a parent, you can help reduce these risks.
What You Can Do to Keep Your Teen Driver Safe
Whether your teen is driving to practice, drives to and from school every day, is commuting to college, or is driving friends on the weekend, you want to make sure they’re putting safety first. This is the only way they can reduce the likelihood of being involved in a serious accident.
In this article, we’ve put together a few helpful tips–six to be precise–on how you can encourage your teen to practice safe driving. Take a moment to read through these, and please feel free to share with other parents who you think could benefit from this information. Together, we can reduce teen driver accidents.
1. Familiarize Yourself with Your State’s Driver’s License Laws
The first step is to educate yourself on your state’s driving requirements and restrictions for young drivers. Each state has a graduated driver licensing (GDL) system that implements a three-stage process to limit high-risk situations for teen and novice drivers. These systems enforce lower-level driving privileges for new drivers (often referred to as learner’s permits), such as restricting night driving and not allowing passengers. The NHTSA estimates that they can reduce the chances of your teen being involved in an accident by up to 50%.
This is also a good opportunity to brush up on your knowledge of your state’s laws on distracted driving, cell phone use, underage drinking, and other regulations. Even if your teen has full driving privileges, you can do your part to make sure they know the consequences of drunk driving, speeding, or texting while driving.
2. Set the Rules Before Your Teen Gets Behind the Wheel
Set rules and boundaries before your teen starts driving. Have an open discussion with your teenager about what you expect from them, what the laws are, and what happens if they break the rules. Encourage them to ask questions and discuss anything they may disagree with. Try to back your rules with information and evidence so your teen understands why you’re enforcing them. Make sure it’s known that they need to follow the rules, or they’ll face strict penalties.
Of course, you’ll have your own set of rules for your teen driver. Your teen will also have to follow traffic laws and your state’s GDL system. The following are suggestions on what your rules can address:
- Driving at night, including how late your teen can be out on the road
- Who can drive with your teen as a passenger
- How many passengers your teen can have in their vehicle
- Where your teen is allowed to go, and when
- Texting or talking on the phone while driving
- Drinking, drugs, and even prescription drugs
- Speeding and obeying traffic laws, including seat belt use
- Checking and maintaining their brakes, tires, and other parts of their vehicle
Be clear about your expectations. Put the rules and penalties in writing so there are no misinterpretations, and you can reference them in the future. You may even find it helpful to make driving a privilege, something they earn by keeping their grades up and keeping up with other responsibilities, like chores.
3. Help Your Teen Understand the Consequences of Unsafe Driving
Most young people feel invincible. Many have not had to deal with the type of trauma or loss that makes them wary of speeding or other dangerous driving practices—and we’re thankful for that. However, this attitude can get teens in trouble. That is why it is so important to help your child understand the consequences of unsafe driving. You don’t have to get gruesome or use scare tactics to drive this home. You can have a candid discussion about what happens to people (teens and adults alike!) who are unsafe behind the wheel.
Go over statistics with your teen. Take a long, hard look at how many people are injured or killed in accidents involving teen drivers. Talk about drunk driving, driving while distracted, and even driving after taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs—and why these practices are so dangerous.
Here are a few key facts and statistics you can reference:
- Every day, about 28 people die in drunk driving accidents in the U.S.
- Alcohol affects not only your judgment but your reaction time and vision as well.
- Nearly half of drivers and passengers killed in car accidents were not wearing seat belts.
- Distracted driving is a factor in about one-third of all fatal traffic accidents each year.
- In the time it takes to read a text (about 5 seconds), your eyes will be off the road while your vehicle has traveled the entire length of a football field (if you’re driving 55 mph).
4. Teach Your Teen to Be a Smart Passenger
It’s not enough for teens to be safe drivers. They must be smart passengers as well. Make sure your teen knows who they can and cannot drive with, and stress the importance of never getting in a car with a driver who has been drinking or doing drugs. It is never acceptable to drive with an unlicensed driver or a stranger. Let them know that, even if you have to go pick them up in the middle of the night, this is preferable to them getting in the car with an unsafe driver.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Enforce the Rules & Penalties
Once you’ve set the rules, you need to enforce them. At this point, you’ve educated yourself and your teen on safe driving, and you’ve gone over the consequences of unsafe driving. You’ve established what penalties will be enforced if your teen breaks the rules. Now it’s time to stand your ground. If your teen knowingly breaks the rules, put in the penalties that you said you would.
What penalties should you enforce? You should decide what works best for you, but here are a few ideas:
- Restrict their driving privileges
- Take away their driving privileges altogether for a certain amount of time
- Enforce an earlier curfew than usual
- Have them do additional chores or make amends in other ways
- Ground them
On the other side, reward good behavior. If your teen is driving responsibly, doing well in school, and following the rules, you can think about a reward like an extended curfew or additional driving privileges. It is just as important to reinforce good behavior as it is to penalize bad behavior (some believe it is even more important!)
6. Set a Good Example
They may not admit it, but your children watch what you do. They will try to emulate you, sometimes even subconsciously. You need to make sure you’re setting a good example by driving safely. You can’t effectively enforce rules that you don’t apply yourself, especially when it comes to dangerous practices like texting while driving. Show your teen how to drive safely by doing it yourself. Don’t pick up the phone to reply to a quick text while you’re driving. Never drink and drive. Avoid distractions and always wear your seatbelt. Obey traffic laws. Taking all these steps will set the best example for your teen driver to follow.
Embrace Your Role as a Parent of a Responsible Teen Driver
Watching your children grow up is the most fantastic and sometimes frightening experience. You need to give them freedom but want to protect them. Taking a smart approach to educating your teen and enforcing safe driving practices will help reduce their risk of being in a crash. At Arnold & Itkin, we believe in helping families across the country in every way we can, and that includes helping them and their teenage drivers stay safe on the road. If your teen was injured in an accident or you have any questions about a case related to a traffic crash of any kind, we are here for you. We fight for accident survivors and families who have lost loved ones, finding answers and securing support on their behalf.
To find out more, call our car accident attorneys at (888) 493-1629.