There are very few rites of passage as a teenager as important and symbolic as earning your driver’s license. The sense of freedom, adulthood, and opportunity that comes along with being able to drive yourself around is incredible – but it’s also an awesome responsibility, for both the new driver and their parents, to ensure that they travel safely every time they get behind the wheel.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of fatalities among teens in the United States – and crashes are most likely to occur in the first 6-12 months that a teen has their driver’s license. The number one cause of teen crashes? Distracted driving – the culprit in nearly 60% of accidents involving drivers between ages 16-19. So how do we keep our kids safe when they’re ready to grab the keys and go?
Habits, Not Rules
Any parent can tell you, most kids don’t like to follow the rules. But when we talk about driving rules, we’re talking about reinforcing safe, smart habits – and not just from the time our kids start learning to drive. One great example? Seatbelts.
Setting the example and always requiring your kids – and every other passenger – to use their seatbelt on every trip is a critical habit to form. And if you start from the moment they leave the carseat or booster, it will just be another habit by the time they get behind the wheel. The same goes for tucking away electronics and cell phones before putting the car in gear, so they don’t create a distraction once you’re on the road.
Well… Maybe A Few Rules
Some habits are hard to form in advance, because the situations don’t pop up often when you’re a young child. With that in mind, creating some hard and fast rules isn’t always a bad idea – things like not speeding, and avoiding getting in the car with inexperience or intoxicated drivers.
Many state licensing programs have certain beneficial rules built into their licensing tiers. In Maryland, for example, teen drivers aren’t allowed to transport peers unless they’re related, or they have an adult in the car with them. Nighttime driving is also restricted by curfew hours for provisional licensees, with a few exceptions for teens that have jobs and need to travel home after work.
Be Open & Emphasize Safety
The number one thing you can do to help keep your teen safe is emphasize that their safety is of the utmost importance – and that you would rather they ask you for help getting out of an uncomfortable situation than putting their lives at risk. For example, it’s not uncommon for teens to experiment with drinking – but by letting them know that you won’t punish them if they call and ask for a ride home because they’ve been drinking, you can discourage them from driving home intoxicated in order to avoid the risk of getting grounded.