I remember the first day I passed my driver's test. I felt like I was on cloud nine…invincible. I instantly thought about all of the places I was going to go by myself. No more asking my parents or friends for a ride — my ticket to being independent had finally come, and I was ready to take on the road like a pro! Handing the paperwork to the clerk at the Secretary of State was empowering. "This is it," I thought to myself. "You are about to get your official driver's license!" I made sure I looked my best for my photo (I even made them take the picture twice) and they said I would receive a hard copy of my license in the mail in 2 to 3 weeks.
Walking out that door with the authorization to drive on my own, I couldn't stop smiling, I felt like a true adult. However, I was far from it. The truth is, I was only 16-years-old and had no idea the weight of responsibility that was on my shoulders now. I'll admit for the first few months I was driving alone, I was a little scared. I would have to constantly keep rubbing my palms on my clothes because they would get sweaty and slippery on the wheel. If I got beeped at, I took it very personally and thought about what I could have done better. I made sure to make as little mistakes as possible — I didn't want any of the other experienced drivers thinking I was a beginner at this! Eventually, it got better with practice and I became more comfortable with going on highway ramps, switching lanes and driving in urban areas.
If you have a teen that just passed their driver's test or are currently in driver's education, remember that this moment is an important, life-changing accomplishment for them. Even though you won't be physically by their side when they're behind the wheel, you can still offer them your support and driving wisdom beforehand. I know, it's easier said than done. Looking back, I didn't exactly listen to everything my parents told me when I was 16, but I must have retained something since I'm a pretty safe driver now!
Sadly, according to the CDC , vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. It's scary and the last thing you want to imagine, so it's important to make sure they're truly prepared for driving.
Thankfully, you can guide your teen to ensure their driving experience is as safe as possible with these helpful tips:
- Follow the speed limit. I know, it's an obvious one. But when you go too fast, you have less time to stop or react. Speeding is one of the leading causes of teenage accidents. Another obvious and important reminder – always wear your seatbelt! According to the CDC, wearing a seat belt can lower the risk of death in car accidents by nearly 50%.
- Make sure your seat is adjusted properly to your height. This is very important because if you can't see through your rear view mirror, it can affect your driving. A good way to tell if the mirror is in the right spot is if you can see the headlights of the car behind you. Also, make sure to adjust your door mirrors on the drivers and passenger side.
- Keep that windshield clean. Keeping your car clean isn't just about style. In the morning and evening, light reflecting off a dirty windshield can temporarily blind you while you're driving.
- Always check your blind spot. This is something I can't stress enough! Thoughtlessly changing lanes can lead to a dangerous situation, especially with smaller vehicles like motorcycles.
- Use your turn signals. Whether you're turning or changing lanes, you need to give the car behind you enough time to react.
- Be cautious for aggressive drivers. If you do encounter an angry driver, back off and give them space on the road. The best thing is to stay calm to avoid getting into an accident with this person, or another driver on the road.
- Don't use cruise control in the rain or snow. Using this feature during heavy rain, snow or ice can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
- Keep your hands on the wheel, and off your cell phone! Texting and driving has become the number one distraction for teens and adults. A text isn't worth anyone's life, and each time you take your eyes off the road, you put yourself and others at risk. Another reason to keep your eyes on your phone – you will get a ticket! According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 47 states have banned text messaging for drivers. If you get caught, you may get slapped with a big fine, and get points on your driving record. A good way to avoid this is to keep your phone in a place that you can't reach while you're driving.
For the first few weeks, it might be a good idea to have your teen start off with small trips that are less than five miles away. It will help build confidence, and allow them to get more comfortable with driving alone. If you're still nervous, there are other options you can look into, such as a GPS tracking device or smart phone apps that will monitor location and driving speeds. Plus, larger automakers have actually installed systems in their new models that allow parents to set limits on speed and drive time, so keep an eye out for those.