Parent's Guide to Teen Driving

By Audrey Morris

Learning to drive and getting a driver's license are rites of passage for most teenagers. And, while teens may be excited and eager to get behind the wheel, parents are often nervous and a bit scared. Parents play the most important role in teens' learning to drive, and have the most influence over their children's driving behavior. But, what are the things we should do as parents of new drivers? What steps can parents take to make sure our kids learn to be safe drivers, and what can we do to ease our own anxieties?

Some First Steps for Parents of Soon-to-Be Drivers

Licensing laws, ages, and licensing stages vary by state. Know the laws in your state, and follow them. Also, evaluate your own child's readiness to drive-is he or she mature enough? Responsible? Able and willing to follow rules? Interested? Have your teen read your state's driver manual, discuss it, and read whatever guide your state offers on supervised driving.

Causes of Teen Driving Accidents

Teens are most likely to be in an accident in their first year of having a full license. Simple inexperience is the most common cause of teen driving accidents, not excessive speeding or risk-taking. Accidents are most common when other teens are in the car (due to distraction), when the driver is alone (due to inexperience and no assistance), or in difficult conditions such as rain or darkness (again, due to inexperience).

Things Parents of Teen Drivers Can Do

You should model safe and good driving habits. Model these behaviors in the years leading up to your teen getting behind the wheel. If you haven't thought about modelling good driving habits until the point at which your teen starts wanting to drive, it is still better late than never to start doing that.

Here are some good driving habits to adopt now:

  • Wear your seatbelt and require others to as well

  • Don't text or using a handheld phone while driving

  • Don't drink or ingest drugs before driving (including any OTC or prescription medications)

  • No aggressive driving (excessive speeding, tailgating, lane-changing)

  • Be patient and accept your own mistakes (go around the block if you missed your turn, rather than making an illegal maneuver)

Ways to Help Your Teen Driver

  • Keep a driving log of your teen's practice time (some states require this to be turned in at licensure)

  • Practice a lot--the more practice, the better, as with practice comes experience

  • Practice in different driving situations so your teen's skills improve: daytime/nighttime, open road/ heavy traffic, going to familiar/unfamiliar locations, and dry/rain/snow

  • Practice specific skills: parking, merging, lane changing; first in no traffic, moving into more difficult conditions as skills improve

  • Continue to check in with your teen regarding situations that make her nervous or uncomfortable, and take her to practice

  • Ride with your teen often, even after he receives his license

  • Teach your teen about basic car maintenance schedules and checks

  • Tire pressure and wear, oil changes and levels, getting gas, and other maintenance are part of keeping your car safe to drive

  • Teach your teen what to do in case of a flat tire--consider joining AAA or getting Onstar if you don't have either

  • Be sure your child knows what to do in case of an accident--providing/getting insurance information, registration; where to safely pull over; who to call

Set Rules and Stick with Them-Make and Sign a Contract

  • The National Safety Council offers a Parent-Teen Agreement

  • AAA offers state-by-state information on laws, parent-teen agreements, and teen pre-driving and driving classes for AAA members

  • Safercar.gov suggests 5 main rules if you choose to write your own contract

  • Keep communication open, including after your teen has her full license

Ways to Manage Your Own Stress

  • Keep a practice log and follow all laws in your state

  • Set additional limits that you feel are needed for your child (i.e., no night driving, no friends or siblings in the car)

  • Look at the statistics, if that is helpful in putting the danger into perspective

  • Rest assured that you have done everything you can for your child