10 Tips For Keeping Your Teen Driver Safe

In wrapping our Teen Driver Safety Series, we want to take a look back at where we've been and relate it to our central theme: keeping our children alive. After all, none of this matters if we fail in our primary duty as parents and guardians.

The future of any society rests in its children. Clearly, without new citizens, a culture stagnates. Therefore, protecting youth from its own foibles and foolhardiness falls to the older, more responsible members of the community. This is no more true than in the area of automobiles, where thousands of young people die every year on American highways.

So what can we do to make our teen drivers safer? What actions might we undertake to safeguard them from a crucial, even fatal, driving error?

In this, our final installment in our Teen Driver Safety Series, let's recap the highlights of our previous four articles, plus add some new thoughts. To make this easier to follow for the reader, we've arranged it into a top 10 list.

  1. Pay for Extra Driver Training If you can afford it, consider investing in additional behind-the-wheel driver education for your teen. As we discussed in our third installment, the state of driver's ed in the United States is absolutely deplorable and shows no sign of improving. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is the absence of a national standard. Instead, each state makes its rules. Because of this, there is a wide disparity in the quality of driver training from state to state. We specifically recommend an "active" setting (where your child actually gets behind the wheel and drives) versus a classroom setting, since the latter is mainly book learning, while the former teaches your child the real-world driving dynamics of an automobile. There are a number of racing schools and low-cost programs around the country. Check your local listings, or see Part Three of this series.
  2. Have Your Child Drive You Crazy Well, not literally. What we mean here is, once your child receives her learner's permit, have her drive everywhere possible -- to the store, school, the bowling alley, wherever -- with you in the passenger seat, of course. It's crucial that your child gets as much "wheel" time as possible before going off on her own. Remember, nothing gives a better understanding of the dynamics of a motor vehicle than repeated exposure to the actual driving experience.
  3. Talk to Your Child as You Drive Continuing the theme above, communicate with your child as you travel together. Turn off the radio and talk to him about safety hazards you encounter along the way. Remember this one point: By the time your teen reaches driving age, you've most likely been driving him around for 15-plus years; you have much to impart. Remember, too, that body language and hand signals can be as effective as spoken directions. For instance, if you see a car nosing out of a driveway, a simple gesture in that direction can alert your teen driver to the potential danger. Also, remind yourself of the safety hazards you notice in your own driving, and communicate these to your child as you travel. Some common themes: watching downhill speed, spotting trouble ahead, braking sooner rather than later. Remind your child that defensive driving is all about anticipation.
  4. Don't Rant, Yell, Scream or Shout -- Until You Get Home As much as you may want to, it's best not to overreact while on the road with your teen driver. Wait until you get home. Then you can yell all you want. Seriously, there's a safety reason for this. Studies have shown that an emotionally charged conversation compromises driving performance, reducing attention span and increasing distraction. If your child does something wrong on the road, make a mental note to discuss it when you get home, or, if you find the infraction serious enough, have her pull over and take over the driving for her. Whatever you do, do not yell or rant at your child while she drives. This could be dangerous for both of you.
  5. Review Your Driving Session Along these same lines, consider a brief review of the day's driving once you return home. As gently and calmly as possible, discuss potential problems and solutions, dangers you encountered on the road and things to pay attention to in future trips.

Once your child receives his license, the landscape changes a little. However, your job is far from over. Now, you kick into surveillance mode. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open. What you see and hear -- and how you respond to it -- could save your child's life.

  1. Meet Your Child's Traveling Companions The social aspects of teen driving cannot not be underestimated. The sudden freedom of mobility acts like an elixir to some teens. Be sure to monitor your child's comings and goings, doing the best you can to keep track of his companions. As we discussed in Part Two, a number of factors influence teen driver safety. Besides the usual culprits of drugs and alcohol, other issues, such as speeding, bravado and failure to wear seatbelts, account for thousands of lost teen lives every year. Equally significantly, a recent study found that a 16-year-old driver with three or more passengers was three times as likely to die in a fatal wreck than one driving alone.
  2. Remind Your Teen Driver About the Risks Be the most annoying parent you can be. Remind your child frequently of the inherent dangers of operating a motor vehicle with anything less than 100 percent concentration. Insist that she not operate a car while drunk or high -- and, equally important, that she not ride with a driver similarly intoxicated. If necessary, make yourself available for emergency pick-ups.
  3. Choose a Safe Car As we discussed in Part Four, the type of car your teen driver operates can be a matter of life and death. Choose one in good working condition, with solid crash test scores and a strong record for reliability. If shopping for a used car, closely inspect tires and brakes, belts and hoses, and other systems that can influence the safety or dependability of the vehicle.
  4. Ride Periodically with Your Teen Continue to ride with your teen driver from time to time, reviewing safety tips and monitoring his driving skills. Bad habits can crop up at any time, but are especially prevalent in the beginning years of driving. Best to nip them in the bud. Frequent, ongoing drive-alongs are the best way to keep tabs on a teen driver's progress. Remember that the first few years are absolutely crucial in establishing solid driving habits, which can then lead to a lifetime of safe driving.
  5. Have Your Child Share Insurance and Other Costs Since driving is a privilege and not a right, consider having your child share in the cost of operating the vehicle. This will not only teach her responsibility, but will also give her a dawning realization that nothing is free. It might also translate into better driving skills.

Well, there you have it -- our top 10 safety tips for teen drivers. We trust you'll utilize them in keeping your child safe on the road.

Whatever your decisions in this area, realize that direct involvement with your child is the best way to insure against accidents and fatalities. Taking an active role can truly make a difference.