It’s bittersweet – handing the keys over to your teen and watching them embrace their first taste of independence. Like most parents, you’re more nervous for them to start driving than they are themselves! The road can be a dangerous place, and you want to make certain they are prepared for all possible driving conditions they could run into.
Act as Their Role Model
Your teen driver spends years watching you drive before they even consider themselves getting behind the wheel. They become accustomed to all your driving habits and have learned to think that they are appropriate – even when they are not.
A study completed by the Huffington Post found that 50% of parents have knowingly texted their teen while the teen was driving; 55% of parents say they use apps while driving; and an alarming 62% of parents say they use their phone to check incoming calls and/or talk while driving.
This study discovered more bad habits outside of distracted driving – they discovered that 45% of parents admitted to speeding while driving; 34% of parents say they drive while drowsy or tired; and 25% of parents report they drive aggressively.
It is vital that you portray good driving behavior in front of your teen once they begin to practice their driving skills. Dedicate yourself to dismissing all distractions and focusing on obeying all traffic laws. Never text your teen when you know they are on the road unless it is an emergency. These admirable behaviors are something your teen will certainly notice, and they will likely imitate these behaviors as they drive.
Teaching your teen the rules of the road, about the vehicle and it’s controls takes time, patience and a positive attitude.
Start with a tour of the vehicle
Before your teen shifts into drive, make sure you teach them the basics of their car: show them how to adjust their seat, side and rearview mirrors safely to fit their needs. Don’t forget to adjust the tilt of the steering wheel too, if needed.
- Dashboard controls
- Seat and steering wheel adjustments
- Mirror adjustments
- Turn signals
- Safety features like seat belts and air bags
- Parking brake/release
- Hazard lights
- Starting/turning off the engine
- Gas and brakes
- Maintenance indicator lights on the dash (icons like low fuel, oil or temperature gauge)
Help your teen designate a place to store the registration, insurance card and car manual, such as the glove box. Ensure they have a key to their glove box so they can secure these documents. We also encourage all drivers to snap a picture of these documents just in case something happens to the physical copies.
Take it slow at first
Start practicing with your teen in areas with low speed limits, like residential areas/neighborhoods or even big, empty parking lots. Slowly introduce them into regular roads with higher speed limits.
Basic driving skills checklist
Practice taking different routes with your teen going through the following skills:
- Taking turns – use of signals and speed
- Accelerating smoothly
- Braking smoothly
- Approaching intersections controlled by lights or stop signs
- Determining right of way
- Changing and merging into lanes safely
- Maintaining correct speed
- Maintaining a safe following distance
- Looking for and recognizing hazards
- Sharing the road with pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles and school buses
- Driving through a school zone
- How to react to an approaching emergency vehicle
- Using turn lanes
As your teen begins to feel more comfortable with different skills on familiar roads, continue to expose them to different times of day, levels of traffic and weather conditions.
Once they have mastered the basics on familiar roads, try taking them a different route every time to ensure your teen is getting the variety of experience needed to be a safe driver.
Progress to the Highway
This is often times a frightening task for a new driver – high speeds, heavy traffic and merging can be intimidating at first. Break them in by venturing onto the highway at quieter times of the day, avoiding rush-hour traffic. As they begin to feel more comfortable, progress them into heavier traffic, different times of the day, different routes and a variety of weather conditions.
Before you take them onto the highway, be sure they are prepared for:
- High speeds
- The necessity of checking blind spots before changing lanes
- Driving next to large trucks
- Anticipating interchanges and reading signs
- Allowing extra room between their vehicle and others
- Scanning the road for slowing or stopped traffic ahead
Advanced driving skills checklist
These are the skills a new driver must master while in high-speed, high-traffic conditions:
- Merging into traffic
- Identifying road signs and exits
- Maintaining an appropriate speed
- Being mindful of other drivers
- Navigating toll booths
- Passing and being overtaken
- Maintaining a safe following distance
Difficult driving conditions can be hazardous for any driver, especially new drivers. After you and your teen feel confident with their ability to drive under various circumstances, discuss possible dangers and weather conditions they should be mindful of such as rain, snow, fog, sleet, hail, etc. Teach them how to utilize their defroster, fog lights and high beams.
You should accompany your teen driver on all trips until he/she feels comfortable with driving in ‘degraded’ conditions.
Enforcing Rules and Restrictions
It is important to enforce rules and restrictions on your teen driver to keep them safe behind the wheel. Be sure to go over the dangers of distracted driving with them, as this is the number one cause of driving accidents in teens.
Teen drivers are more susceptible to driving distracted in comparison to any other age group. They might not engage in distracted driving with you in the car, but the tables could turn once you aren’t there to ensure they are displaying good driving behaviors. Make them aware that thousands of lives are claimed every year to distracted driving, it claimed 3,166 lives in 2017 alone.
Believe it or not, passengers are number one distraction for teen drivers. The risk of being in a fatal accident increases with every passenger added to your teens vehicle. A teen driver with only one additional passenger doubles the risk of getting into a fatal accident. With two or more passengers, they are 5X as likely.
Many states place restrictions on the number of passengers under 21 a teen driver can have in their vehicle; but if your state does not, be sure to set your own boundaries to keep them safe.
Teens are very accustomed to the accessibility of technology. Distraction is a key factor in 58% of crashes involving teen drivers ages 16 – 19.
Although teens recognize that talking or texting on the phone or using social media apps while driving as unsafe, they often engage in these behaviors anyways.
There are various apps you can install onto your teens phone that will help monitor and limit their phone access while they are driving. Some apps you can try include:
You can use these apps to place restrictions on your teens cell phone use while driving and also offer them incentives for good behavior.
Teaching a new driver the rules of the road takes ample effort and commitment to ensure they are equipped with sharp skills and confidence behind the wheel.