A driver's license is a much-anticipated landmark for teenagers yearning for freedom. But, with freedom comes responsibility, and the parents of newly minted teen drivers may need to take on their share. What do you need to know when your teen is on the brink of automotive liberty? Here are a few things to think about:
There's no getting around it: Driving can be dangerous, especially for teenagers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, car accidents result in the injury of hundreds of thousands of teenagers each year in the U.S.—and the risk is highest during the first few months after a teen gets a drivers license.
Speeding, inexperience, distractions and impaired driving are some of the major causes of accidents among teenage drivers. However, even if your son or daughter is responsible and level-headed, new drivers are often so concerned with driving correctly, that they won't be ready to react to the mistakes that other motorists make on the road. As a result, it's essential that your son or daughter gets supervised driving experience, which will help him or her acquire the skills needed to become a competent driver. Many states have Graduated Driver Licensing laws, which allow teen drivers to gain experience while they gradually gain full driving privileges.
When you consider these dangers, it's no wonder that a driver's license can give concerned parents pause, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Teenage drivers generally show dramatic improvement within their first 1,000 miles or first year of driving, and they continue to improve for the next 4,000 miles after that. You just need to take steps to ensure that you're setting your son or daughter up for success when they get behind the wheel.
Follow your instincts as a parent. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of your teenager driving alone, once the GDL laws permit it, or you think that he needs more practice, then don't let him drive by himself. Start off by practicing in quiet areas that don't get much traffic, and when the weather is good. As your teen becomes more skilled, you can start introducing him to different traffic conditions and roadways, as well as nighttime driving and different types of weather. New teen drivers are generally safest when they have adult supervision, and they're the most at-risk when they're alone during their first six months behind the wheel. With driving practice, and by setting guidelines, you can help your teen become an excellent driver.
Even if you're confident in your child's abilities, it's important to realize that teens will sometimes drive differently without parental supervision. As a result, it's a good idea to set some ground rules with new drivers. Consider guidelines that will minimize distractions, and ones that will help inexperienced drivers avoid risky conditions, for example. If he or she is unable to follow some basic rules for safety, there should be consequences, such as a loss of driving privileges. The Allstate Foundation offers a downloadable Parent-Teen Agreement that can help you and your teen set and discuss rules and consequences.
In addition to helping teach your teen to drive and setting up rules and consequences, you may also want to talk to your teenager about avoiding some dangerous behaviors, like driving under the influence and distracted driving. Educate your teen on how to drive defensively, and on the importance of controlling road rage or other dangerous emotions behind the wheel.
One of the best ways to help your teen hone his driving skills is by being a good, responsible driver yourself. Don't exhibit road rage, be courteous to other drivers and avoid distracted driving. Set an example by showing your teen how good driving behavior helps keep everyone on the road safe. Educating a new driver is also a great opportunity for both of you to review your state's traffic laws, which should help both of you become better drivers.
Whether you're teen is heading out in the family station wagon or in his or her own ride, make sure that the car is in good driving condition, and stock it with gear that could come in handy during an emergency. A cellphone is also an asset in emergencies, but make sure your teenager knows to park somewhere safe before making a call.
Another important factor to consider is car insurance. As soon as your teen gets a learners permit, talk to your insurance agent about your coverage options to make sure your family—and your vehicle—are protected.
Ultimately, your actions will help set the standard for your teen as a new driver. Practice and driving guidelines, as well as open and honest discussion, will help keep your new driver safe on the road.