As a parent, there are few things more thoroughly nerve-racking than handing over the keys to your teen and allowing them to drive off on their own for the evening. Doing so is a wonderful step towards letting go and allowing them to grow up as an independent adult — but it is also one of the most dangerous moves you will take as a responsible parent.
There is no shortage of statistics identifying teen drivers as the most dangerous drivers out there and as the drivers most likely to be involved in any type of minor or serious accident. In fact, approximately one third of all teen deaths involve motor vehicle accidents. Most of these accidents happen at night, when driving conditions are more challenging for inexperienced drivers.
Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take as a parent to significantly reduce the likelihood of your teen being involved in a driving accident. For one, be sure to speak with your new driver about the house rules and expectations of driving. But even more importantly, follow your own rules — teens will often mimic their parent’s driving habits in new situations.
Here are a few important safe driving conversations to have with your teen early and often.
Limit the Distractions
Perhaps the single most significant issue for inexperienced teen drivers and safety on the road is the sheer number of possible distractions. Distracted driving, profoundly increases the risks of violating traffic laws, especially those that are closely linked to serious accidents such as driving through red traffic lights. Communicating with teens about the risks of distracted driving and setting an example of not being an easily distracted driver is critical.
This is especially prevalent when it comes to cell phones and driving. An estimated 11 percent of teen drivers that were involved in fatal accidents were distracted by cellular devices while behind the wheel. As a parent driver, never pick up your phone while driving; have a passenger answer important messages for you or wait until you are parked to respond. Make it clear that these are the family driving expectations.
Additionally, be prepared to limit the number of passengers your teen is allowed to drive around. The number of passengers in a vehicle, especially if a male is driving, has been directly linked to the likelihood of having an accident. Some states even have laws limiting the number of passengers your teen is allowed to have for this reason.
Be Prepared for the Worst
It is impossible to control what other drivers are doing, and even if you are doing everything right, it is still possible to be in an accident. Learning how to protect oneself from aggressive or distracted drivers on the road is a critical step in becoming an experienced and safe driver. For that reason, another important conversation to have with your teen driver is one regarding tips on defensive driving and what to do if they are in an accident.
Luckily, most drivers don’t have to go far out of their way to incorporate defensive driving tips into their every day driving. Key defensive driving strategies include things such as frequently checking mirrors, keeping tabs on where other cars are located around you, and maintaining a 3-4 second driving distance between the car in front of you. Additionally, teach teens to always have an escape route, or a plan to be able to avoid an accident if the car in front of them suddenly stops.
Unfortunately, accidents do happen, and hopefully if it does, it isn’t a serious one. Be sure to communicate with your teen what they need to do if an accident does occur. Make sure your teen is insured and has a copy of insurance and registration handy. Come up with a plan of action for your teen in the event of a non-serious accident that they can easily follow if they are ever in that situation.
Always Take Weather Into Account
As your teen is learning to drive and becoming more and more confident behind the wheel, consider exposing them to multiple weather scenarios. This is especially important if you live in an area where your teen is likely to have to drive in snowy or icy conditions during the winter months. Winter driving brings a whole new set of challenges, especially once the snow starts falling.
Whenever there is snow on the ground, drivers should assume it will take them twice as long to stop. Roads may not always be slick, but it is certainly beneficial to assume that they are. Perhaps the best analogy for driving in snowy conditions for young drivers: Try to drive like your grandma is in the car in her Sunday best with a full crockpot of hot chili on her lap and you have to chauffeur her to a church potluck.
Other weather conditions such as rain or extreme wind also warrant special driving considerations. Have your teen practice driving in inclement weather as much as possible while you or an instructor are able to coach them. This can help to give them some level of comfort and experience before they are forced to navigate the situation on their own.
Placing the trust and confidence in your teen to drive safely is a big step towards independence. As your teen takes to the road, be sure they are aware of the serious risks and responsibilities associated with driving. Lay down ground rules for safe driving, and be sure to be the example your teens should emulate. With a little coaching and support, they will safely be on the road in no time.
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Until next time, shine amongst the stars!
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