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Teen Driving

Learning how to drive is an important goal for most teens. However, it can be very stressful for parents. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for young adults between the ages of 16 and 20. Two-thirds of the teens killed are males.

All 50 states have a Graduated Licensing System for teen drivers. This includes a learner’s permit, an intermediate or provisional license, and a full-privilege license. Some states spell out how much driver training is required, how many passengers are allowed, and some restrict driving at night. Make sure you understand your state’s laws. Here are some driving safety tips for parents and teens.

Tips for Parents

  • Teach by example. Follow all the rules you expect teens to follow. Always wear your seatbelt. Don’t talk on the cell phone or text while driving. Don’t eat or drink when you are behind the wheel. Obey the speed limit and all traffic rules. Tell your child what you expect of him or her behind the wheel. Set strict rules, be sure your child understands them, and enforce them.
  • Consider enrolling your teen in a driver's education class. The more people teens hear safety messages from, the better. It also may decrease car insurance premiums. Many companies give a discount for kids who complete driver's education classes.
  • Get involved in teaching your teen how to drive. Practice in a safe location and give them lots of practice time with you in the car. Set up a practice schedule and stick to it. Try to be patient with your teen and not lose your temper. Continue to ride with them even after they've received their driver's license.
  • Talk with your teen about the dangers of drinking and driving and peer pressure. Check in with them often to see how they are handling those pressures. Remind teens that car chases, stunts, and racing scenes on TV and in movies are carefully staged. Risky driving puts teen drivers, passengers, and others on the road at risk for serious injuries or death.
  • The risk of being in a car crash is highest during the first 12 to 24 months of driving. Fatal crashes with teen drivers are more likely when other kids are in the car, because they distract the driver. Teens are also less likely to wear seatbelts when other teens are in the car. Most experts recommend that teens not be allowed to drive with friends or siblings during the first 12 months of driving unless an adult is in the car. Always know where your teen is and when they are going to return.
  • Set a curfew. Night driving is hard for new drivers. Most accidents occur between 9 PM and 2 AM.
  • Limit your child's driving during bad weather.
  • Decide ahead of time which car your teen is allowed to drive. Make sue the car is safe and in good condition. It should have a driver's side airbag, good safety ratings, and be easy to control. Sports cars and large SUVs are not recommended because they may increase the risk of accidents. Consider having teens pay for part or all of their car insurance. Knowing that premiums go up after an accident helps encourage safe driving.
  • You can monitor your teen’s driving in several ways. Bumper stickers that say "How's My Driving?" allow people to call in when they see your teen driving recklessly. You can also get devices for the car from some insurance companies, or use a smartphone app to track your teen’s driving.

Tips for Teens

  • Use your seat belt. Two-thirds of kids killed in crashes were not wearing seat belts. Make it a rule that anyone who rides with you must also wear a seat belt.
  • Never use alcohol or drugs when driving a car. Even some nonprescription medicines, like cold medicine, can impair your driving. Read the label of any medicines you take. If you drive while impaired, you could lose your license for years. You could also spend time in jail, or cause the injury or death of yourself or someone else.
  • Don't drive if you're sleepy. This can be as dangerous as driving intoxicated.
  • Follow the posted speed limit. The faster you go the less control you have over your car. More than a third of teen driving deaths involve speeding.
  • Avoid distractions like texting or talking on the phone, GPS devices, putting on makeup, or eating. Keep both hands on the wheel. Taking the time to pull over and set the GPS or take a call could save your life.
  • Be aware of dangerous conditions, such as bad weather, sun in your eyes, traffic, obstacles in the road, and other drivers. Staying alert helps you react safely.
  • Don't allow your friends to pressure you into doing something unsafe. You are the one who will face the consequences if something happens.
  • Keep control of your emotions when you're driving. If you get too upset or angry when driving, pull over to the side of the road until you get control of yourself.
  • Take care of your car. Make sure the windshield is clean, you have enough windshield wiper fluid, and that you have gas in the tank. Make sure your tires are inflated to the right pressure. Don't forget brake checks and oil changes. Having an unsafe car increases your chances for an accident.
  • Keep safety items in your car and check to make sure they work. This should include a flashlight, flares, jumper cables, and a blanket. Keep your cell phone charged.
  • Adjust the car's headrest so that it supports your head (not behind your neck). This reduces the chance of whiplash injury if you are in an accident. Also adjust the mirrors so you can clearly see behind you. Be aware of any blind spots where your view of other traffic is blocked.
  • Be on the lookout for pedestrians, bikes, and motorcycles.
  • If you're going somewhere new, allow extra time to get there and get good directions. Driving recklessly because you are in a rush is not worth a life.

What is a safety contract?

Some parents use a safety contract that both parents and teen sign. Driving safely is not just protection for the teen, but also for everyone else on the road. Driving a vehicle is a privilege, not a right. Make the consequences of breaking the contract clear. Below are some things that you may want to include in the contract.

  • I will obey all traffic laws and speed limits and practice safe driving at all times.
  • I will always wear a seatbelt and make sure that all passengers do the same.
  • I will not talk on the cell phone, text, or use other electronic devices while driving.
  • I will not eat or drink anything while driving.
  • I will not drink alcohol or use drugs and drive, or have any alcohol or drugs in my car at any time.
  • If I get a traffic ticket, I agree to pay for the ticket.
  • I agree to pay for all damages after an accident, including the insurance deductible.
  • For the first year, I will not drive friends in the car unless an adult is present.
  • I will take care of gas, oil, and maintenance for the car that I drive.
  • I will tell my parents where I am driving and when I plan to return.
  • I agree to pay for car insurance.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-02
Last reviewed: 2014-05-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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