Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teens and young adults. More than 5,500 young people die every year in car crashes and thousands more are injured. Parents can play an important role in reducing these numbers and keeping their teens alive.
The following are ways you can help keep teens safe on the road:
- Be a role model. If you expect your teen to drive safely, you need to drive safely, too.
- Always wear your seat belt.
- Don't drink and drive. Never allow any alcohol or illegal drugs in the car.
- Don't eat, drink, talk or text on your cell phone, or do anything else that could distract you from your driving.
- Stay within the speed limit and obey all traffic signals.
- Know the laws in your state. It is important that you know and understand the graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws where you live. Specifically, you need to know the restrictions and limitations on teen drivers who have permits and provisional licenses. You must also learn about your own legal responsibilities for providing a good supervised driving experience for your teen.
- Set specific rules. Before you let your teen drive, set specific rules that must be followed (see Parent-Teen Driving Agreement).
- At first, the restrictions you set should be strict. You can gradually relax the rules after your teen has demonstrated safe driving. And the rules you set should depend on the maturity level of your teen.
- Because so many crashes occur in the first 6 months of unsupervised driving, your teen shouldn't drive teen passengers or drive after 9:00 pm at first. And don't ask your teen to give rides to younger siblings until he or she has had extensive driving experience.
- After your teen has demonstrated safe driving for 6 months, you might allow 1 passenger and a later curfew (for example, 10:00 pm). Before allowing more passengers, keep in mind that more passengers may make it more likely that your teen will have a crash. Studies show that 1 passenger increases the risk of a crash by 40%, 2 passengers doubles the risk, and 3 passengers almost quadruples the risk.
- Enforce strict penalties. Generally, penalties for breaking the contract should match the seriousness of the rule broken. Punishments for reckless driving, such as speeding or drunk driving, should be strict and may involve loss of driving privileges.
- Take your teen on the road. The 6 hours of driving practice in many driver education programs is not enough. Your teen needs a lot more supervised driving practice, and some nighttime driving is important, too. Some states require 50 hours of supervised practice. There are books, videos, and classes for parents on how to teach teen drivers. Remember that you'll probably need a lot of patience.
- Contact the doctor if your teen is taking medicine for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The doctor can discuss with you and your teen the possible benefits of taking a short-acting medicine prior to driving at night. Evidence shows that medicine helps the teen driver with ADHD stay better focused and less distracted.
- Check out the car. Make sure the car your teen is driving is safe and in good condition. If your teen is buying a car, help your teen research safety ratings and find a mechanic to inspect the car. Air bags and lap-shoulder belts in the rear seat are important safety features.
- Make a tough decision. If you're concerned that your teen may not be ready to drive, you can prevent your teen from getting a license. All states allow parents to block their teen from getting a license if the teen is thought to be immature or reckless.