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Help Your Teenager Be a Safe Driver

Car crashes are by far the No. 1 cause of death for teens. As teenagers adjust to their new world as drivers, it’s crucial for parents to stay involved with their driving experience to keep new drivers safe.

Driving may seem easy to adults who have many years of experience behind the wheel, but learning to drive can be very challenging to a new driver. Teens must learn basic driving skills, develop sound judgment and decision-making ability, and get a great deal of practice time behind the wheel.

With your help, young drivers can learn to become safe and responsible drivers throughout their lives.

Here are some suggestions for parents of teenagers who have just earned their driver’s license, as provided by the National Safety Council’s DriveItHome initiative:

Practice with new drivers. Even after your teen has their license, it’s important for you to sit beside them and offer them suggestions and guidance—think of their driving as a continual education. Remember to be encouraging. And be sure to schedule at least 30 minutes of practice time each week to check in and see how they are doing. One idea while they’re driving is to play a game called “What if?” Ask them what would happen if a certain situation occurred—“What if that truck tried to move into our lane?”—and explain how you would react.

Set a good example. Research indicates teens often imitate the driving habits of their parents, so it’s important to be the best role model you can be. If another driver comes close to hitting your car, don’t lose your patience and shout. Take a deep breath, stay under control and let it go. Don’t be distracted by phone calls or text messages. Drive the way you want your teen to drive. Your child has learned from you their whole life. They don’t stop learning after getting their license.

Sign the New Driver Deal. This is a written agreement that helps establish expectations for the teen and parent. A written document like the New Driver Deal helps make sure an agreement is effective. The agreement should include restrictions, privileges, rules and consequences, making it more difficult for the parent or their young driver to overlook or bend the rules.

The deal could also include things such as financial issues, personal safety and a schedule for sharing the car with family members. Ideally, the document should be as simple as possible, with the focus always on driving safety.

Let teens earn privileges. The best way teens can show they are ready for new privileges is by showing they can handle the privileges they already have.

Parents should discuss their feelings about teen driver safety with other parents. Make sure you communicate with parents of your child’s friends so you know where they stand on rules concerning teen driver safety. It can be difficult to enforce rules with your child if the parents of friends don’t have the same rule standards. It also can be dangerous for your teen to be a passenger in a car driven by a teen who has been awarded too many driving privileges too soon. Communication with other parents is key.

Additional Resources

In addition to DriveitHome, the National Safety Council provides a wealth of other information to educate teen drivers through the Teen Safe Driving Coalition.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers teen driving safety suggestions for parents (“Parents Are the Key to Safe Teen Drivers”).

The Tennessee Highway Safety Office offers a free educational program—“What do You Consider Lethal?”—for students, teachers, safety educators and law enforcement to implement in their communities. The program educates teens about the dangers of reckless and distracted driving. Click here for more information.

Find out how your child can earn their driver’s license in Tennessee.