The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reports that car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens in the United States. Teens are shown to be more likely to speed, which is usually the cause of a fatal crash in this age group. Cell phone use while driving, and texting specifically, has also become a factor in many crashes in recent years, especially in the teenage population. In addition to being as dangerous as drinking and driving, it is also illegal in most states.
Parents cannot be in the car with their teens all the time. While you might like to think that your teen will always make good choices, even the most well behaved kids can make mistakes and get hurt or worse. Parents take steps and establish driving rules to limit this behavior before it happens. Set the rules, stick with them, and explain why each rule is important for their safety, all before they even have the license in their hands. While most of the tips below apply to high school students and those of a similar age, instilling the responsibility for their own safety from the start will still help them make good choices when they are away at college or other next step in their lives.
Have the final say in your teen’s first car.
You do not want you teen to be driving an older, unsafe car. A break-down on a highway or busy road can be dangerous. Many older vehicles also do not have safety features in line with what we know today. Older airbags may cause injury on deployment or not deploy at all. Older seatbelts or interior framing may not offer the same protection as those made in the last decade. It may be inexpensive, but it simply may not be up to today’s standards.
Alternately, allowing a teen to drive a late model SUV, van, or sports car may also not be a good choice. Be certain the car is chosen to be practical as opposed to fast, flashy, or prone to flipping or rolling. It may not be what they would choose if they were given their pick, but they will live through it.
Have the teen contribute financially
In addition to learning responsibility and the value of a dollar, humans are generally more careful with something they had to work hard to get. If your teen wants to drive, they should also have to work and pay for expenses associated with having a vehicle. While grades are very important, and shouldn’t be allowed to drop due to having a job, job hours can be limited. The teen should at least be able to pay for their fuel and some of the insurance costs. A weekend job at a store, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, or any part time work is suitable.
Forbid the Phone
The phone is a temptation to look at when it rings, even for the mature driver. If adults struggle with the self-control necessary to not text and drive, you might imagine that a teenager’s impulse control is even lower. The teen must agree to have the cell phone turned off at all times while in the car. The penalty for breaking the rule should be to lose the phone, the driving privilege, or both. Common sense exceptions can be made for when they are lost or in an accident, provided they follow the rules of the road by pulling over before calling home.
Statistics show that teens are more likely to speed or have an accident with other teens in the car. Place a limit on who gets to ride in the car. Limits should be placed on which teens from who they can accept a ride as well. You may be teaching safety to your teen, but unfortunately not all teens are getting the message.
No Tolerance Ticket Rule
If a teen knows ahead of time that one speeding or reckless driving ticket in their first year means the loss of driving privilege, they are going to be less likely to drive too fast. Be clear that hiding it will not help, as it will show up as a car insurance increase, and they will be punished for twice the time if they try to hide it. Make the time fit the crime, but it should be measured in months, not weeks and days.
Love and Trust
While no one can prevent every eventuality or possibility, the above steps can lower your teen’s risk of hurting themselves or others. When done with love and trust, not stated as a lecture but as a matter-of-fact conversation, you’ll be able to increase leniency as your teenager grows in responsibility and maturity. In the meanwhile, be open, be honest, explain why their safety is so important and how big the risks truly are. You will be keeping your teen, and the rest of the world, just a little more safe.