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Pretty little drivers : 7 tips for parents of teens

By: Laura Hutchison, MD

Parenting is often about decisions.  As a Mom of a 15-year-old daughter who just recently got her learners permit, my current dilemma is in regards to teenage driving.  Many parents struggle to find the balance between wanting to let their teens drive and keeping their teens safe when they are not in the vehicle with them. Personally, I want to encourage my daughter to be a strong and independent woman.  In this day and age, that means she needs to know how to drive.  On the other hand, I am very aware of the dangers this poses.  It is frighteningly common to hear about teenage fatalities while driving.  I was reminded of the dangers a few weeks ago with the car crash that led to serious injury and death in a nearby community.  So, how does a parent approach this time?

I think most of us have some knowledge that teenagers and driving is a scary endeavor.  Let’s review some facts regarding adolescents and driving …

For teenagers – car crashes are the #1 cause of death.  In fact, for 16-year-old drivers, motor vehicle fatality rates are six times higher than in the 30-59 year old age range.  Drivers that are 15-20 years old make up 6.4 percent of all drivers, but account for 11 percent of all the crashes.

So what makes driving so dangerous for teenagers?

  • Inexperience
  • Risk taking/speeding
  • Number of other teenage passengers
  • Night driving/hazardous conditions
  • Lack of safety belts
  • Fatigue
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Distracted driving

Reviewing these facts is frightening – and yet most parents still choose to teach their children to drive.

So, what is a good approach to decrease the chances of catastrophe?

  1. Make safety a way of life.  Be a role model for your teenager.
    1. Always wear your seat belt
    2. Don’t drink and drive – not even one drink
    3. Don’t eat, drink, talk or text in a car
    4. Obey all speed limit and traffic signals
  2. Understand the laws in your state for the Graduated Driver licensing laws. The hallmark of this plan is to set strict limits at first and then relax them over time.  Remember that you must follow the state requirements, but there is no reason that the time frame couldn’t be longer if necessary.   The most important factors of this law include – other passengers in the car with the teen and driving at night and in hazardous conditions.  This information can be accessed here.
  3. Take your teen on the road – practice, practice, practice.  Studies clearly show that Driver’s Education Classes and practicing are not enough.  Continue to practice and go over the skills and rules even after they have received their license.
  4. Check out the car – make sure the car the teen is driving is safe and in good condition.  Air bags and lap shoulder belts are important safety features.
  5. Know medication risks– If your teen takes medication, check with their doctor regarding if this affects their ability to drive.
  6. Be prepared to make a tough decision.  If you’re concerned that your teen is not ready to drive, you can delay or prevent your teen from getting a license.
  7. Create a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement.  This is an agreement that makes it clear what your rules are in regard to driving.  This does not end once they receive a license.  The best agreements change as their experience and responsibility is demonstrated.  The agreement needs to address all of the issues that makes driving so dangerous for teenagers.. Check out this great example.

A common misconception is that “I have a good kid and they would never do any of that”.  Good and responsible kids still make mistakes and can bend in the face of peer pressure or what seems like a small infraction at the time.  It is possible to empower our teenagers to be careful and responsible behind the wheel.  It is often helpful to encourage teens to “leave no peer behind” – to look out for one another so that they will not have to suffer a catastrophe.  And finally, be kind, slow down and look out all – teenagers are on the road!

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