After spending years protecting your children from all sorts of dangers on the road and off, you now face the prospect of handing them the keys to the family car. It is time for them to learn how to drive. Are you prepared? We can help you mold your teen into a safe and capable driver.
Here you will find in-depth information on some of the most common safety problems novice teen drivers should avoid. Educate yourself about the consequences of illegal alcohol use by minors, the benefits of seat belt use, the growing epidemic of distracted driving, and much more.
Your teen sees a driver's license as a step toward freedom, but you might not be sure your teen is ready for the road. One thing is certain: teens aren't ready to have the same level of driving responsibility as adults. Teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes, mainly because of their immaturity, lack of skills, and lack of experience. They speed, they make mistakes, and they get distracted easily – especially if their friends are in the car. To help your teen stay safe behind the wheel, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have a three-stage graduated driver licensing (GDL) system that limits high-risk driving situations for new drivers. This approach can reduce your teen's crash risk by as much as 50%.
What Can You Do?
- Learn about your state’s GDL laws. Note that the laws and restrictions can vary from state to state. Familiarizing yourself with the restrictions placed on your teen's license can better assist you in enforcing those laws. You have the opportunity to establish some important ground rules for your teen driver. Restrict night driving and passengers, prohibit driving while using the phone or other electronic devices, and require seat belt use at all times.
- Talk to your teen about the dangers of drug and alcohol use. Remind them that it is illegal to drink under the age of 21, and it is illegal—and deadly—to drink and drive. If a teen is under 21, his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) should always be at .00, not just under .08, which is the legal limit for drivers over age 21.
- Be a good role model. Remember that your child looks to you as a driver, so practice safe driving yourself. Set aside time to take your teen on practice driving sessions. It can be a great way to spend time together and to allow your teen to improve some basic driving skills. Your teen's learning starts at home.
- Don't rely solely on a driver's education class to teach your teen to drive. Remember that driver's education should be used as just part of a GDL system.
You have more influence on your teen than you may think. Be a good example and get involved in their driving habits from the beginning, and stay involved for the duration of their teen years.
Teens' inexperience behind the wheel makes them more susceptible to distraction behind the wheel. One in three teens who text say they have done so while driving. Is your teen one of them? Research has found that dialing a phone number while driving increases your teen's risk of crashing by six times, and texting while driving increases the risk by 23 times. Talking or texting on the phone takes your teen's focus off the task of driving, and significantly reduces their ability to react to a roadway hazard, incident, or inclement weather.
Distracted driving can take on many forms beyond texting and talking on the cell phone. Many teens may try to use their driving time to eat their morning breakfast or drink coffee, to apply makeup, or to change the radio station. Many teens are distracted by the addition of passengers in the vehicle. Any distraction is a dangerous distraction. Taking eyes off the road even for five seconds could cost a life.
What Can You Do?
- Talk to your teen about the rules and responsibilities involved in driving. Share some stories and statistics related to teen drivers and distracted driving. Remind your teen often that driving is a skill that requires the driver's full attention. Texts and phone calls can wait until arriving at his or her destination.
- Familiarize yourself with your state's graduated driver licensing law, and enforce its guidelines for your teen. Check to see what your state's laws are on distracted driving; many states have novice driver provisions in their distracted driving laws. Create your own rules if necessary. Restricting the number of passengers your teen can have, or the hours your teen can drive, is a very effective way to minimize distraction for your teen driver. Talk about the consequences of distracted driving and make yourself and your teen aware of your state's penalties for talking or texting on a phone while driving.
- Set consequences for distracted driving. If your teen breaks a distraction rule you've set, consider suspending your teen’s driving privileges, further limiting the hours during which they can drive, or limiting the places where they can drive. Parents could also consider limiting a teen’s access to their cell phone—a punishment that in today’s world could be seen by teens as a serious consequence.
- Set the example by keeping your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel while driving. Be consistent between the message you tell your teen and your own driving behaviors. Novice teen drivers most often learn from watching their parents.
Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel. All the time.
In a study analyzed by NHTSA, teen drivers were two-and-a-half times more likely to engage in one or more potentially risky behaviors when driving with one teenage peer, compared to when driving alone. According to the same study analyzed by NHTSA, the likelihood of teen drivers engaging in one or more risky behaviors when traveling with multiple passengers increased to three times compared to when driving alone. In fact, research shows that the risk of a fatal crash goes up in direct relation to the number of teenagers in the car.
What Can You Do?
- Familiarize yourself with your state's graduated driver licensing (GDL) law, and enforce its guidelines for your teen.
- Set your own additional rules and consequences. Establish the consequences you will enforce if your teen doesn’t obey the state GDL restrictions. If your state doesn’t have a passenger restriction, establish your own rule limiting the number of passengers in the car and enforce it.
Most state GDL laws restrict the number of passengers that can ride in a car driven by a teen. Passengers distract an inexperienced teen driver who should be focused only on the road, increasing the likelihood of a crash. If your state does not have passenger restrictions (FL, IA, MS, SD, and ND), establish rules with your teen about who can ride with them and how many people they can have in their car at one time. Make sure your teen follows the rules you set at all times.
Speeding is a critical safety issue for teen drivers. In 2019, it was a factor in 27% of the fatal crashes that involved passenger vehicle teen drivers (15-18 years old.) A study by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) found that from 2000-2011, teens were involved in 19,447 speeding-related crashes. There is also evidence from naturalistic driving studies that teens' speeding behavior increases over time, possibly as they gain confidence (Klauer et al., 2011; Simons-Morton et al., 2013). Teens should especially be aware of their speed during inclement weather, when they may need to reduce their speed, or with other road conditions, like traffic stops or winding roads.
What Can You Do?
- Get Involved: Teens who are monitored closely tend to speed less. Take the lead to do more to address speeding behavior by your teen driver and get involved in the learning-to-drive process.
- Be a good role model: Never speed. Be consistent between the message you tell your teen and your own driving behaviors. Kids learn from watching their parents.
- Hold up on buying your teen a new car: According to a study by GHSA, when a teen first has a driver's license, he or she is more likely to speed in their own vehicle versus driving the family sedan. If possible, parents should choose larger, newer cars rather than high-performance vehicles.
Obey all traffic signs.
DRUNK DRIVING AND DRUGS
Remind your teen that underage drinking is illegal, and driving under the influence of any impairing substance – including illicit, over-the-counter, and prescription drugs – could have deadly consequences. Drinking alcohol under the age of 21 is illegal in every state—inside or outside of a vehicle. Drunk-driving laws are always strictly enforced, and many states have zero-tolerance laws, meaning that there can be no trace of alcohol or illegal drugs in your system at any time. Let your teen know: Law enforcement officers will be able to test for these substances.
Show your teen the grim stats. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens are more likely than anyone else to be killed in an alcohol-related crash. Even though the minimum legal drinking age in every state is 21, data shows 16% of 15- to 18-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2019 had been drinking. Drugs other than alcohol – illicit as well as prescribed and over-the-counter – can affect your teen’s driving, so be sure you and your teen talk about driving and drug use, too.
If lucky enough to survive a crash as an impaired driver, your teenager will face the consequences of breaking the law. Those include a possible trip to jail, the loss of his or her driver's license, and dozens of other expenses including attorney fees, court costs, other fines, and insurance hikes. Your teen will also stand to lose academic eligibility, college acceptance, and scholarship awards.
Share this fact sheet on alcohol and driving with your teenagers and make sure they know the consequences of breaking your state laws on drunk and drugged driving.
What Can You Do:
- Tell your teen that underage drinking, as well as illicit drug use and over-the-counter and prescription drug misuse, is illegal and holds serious consequences. Together, read about some teenagers who've been affected by alcohol or drugs and particularly those who have lost their lives to impaired driving. Teens can often relate better to other teenagers.
- Never provide alcohol to teens. Do your part to prevent your teen from having access to alcohol. Unfortunately, some parents think it's OK to provide alcohol for teens. Don't do it—it’s illegal. Parents who supply alcohol to any teen—or help any minor possess or consume alcohol—face jail time, loss of a driver's license, and serious fines. Remember: For those under 21, the BAC limit is not .08—it is zero.
- Tell your teen that driving while impaired by drugs is illegal, too. The use of drugs can affect their ability to drive a vehicle safely. This includes illegal drugs, many drugs prescribed by a doctor for them or for someone else, and some over-the-counter drugs. Teach your children about zero-tolerance laws, which make it illegal to drive with any measurable amount of specified drugs in the body.
- Remind your teen that it is never safe to ride in a car with someone who has been drinking alcohol or using drugs. If there is even a suspicion of alcohol or drug use, your teen should decline the ride immediately. Let your teen know that they can call you or another trusted adult for a safe ride home if they need one.
- Make the consequences clear. Remind your teens that they face adult consequences for driving after using alcohol or drugs. Make sure your teens know that if they violate underage drinking laws, they face a trip to jail, the loss of their driver licenses, and dozens of unanticipated expenses including attorney fees, court costs, and other fines. Remind them of the added embarrassment and humiliation in getting arrested. Drunk- and drugged-driving convictions can even compromise academic eligibility, college acceptance, scholarship awards, and more.
Talk to your teen about alcohol and drug use and driving. Establish a no-alcohol-or-drugs rule, set consequences, and enforce them. Remind your teen to never ride with someone who has been drinking or using drugs. Make sure he or she understands that you will always pick them up regardless of time or location.
Tragically, seat belt use is lowest among teen drivers. In fact, the majority of teenagers involved in fatal crashes are unbuckled. In 2019, 45% of teen drivers who died were unbuckled. Even more troubling, when the teen driver involved in the fatal crash was unbuckled, nine out of 10 of the passengers who died were also unbuckled. As teens start driving and gradually gain independence, they don't always make the smartest decisions regarding their safety. They may think they are invincible, that they don't need seat belts. They may have a false notion that they have the right to choose whether or not to buckle up.
What Can You Do?
- Let them know: Not only is buckling up the law, it's also one of the easiest and most effective actions in reducing the chances of death and injury in a crash. Help your teen understand why seat belts are so important (most importantly, because seat belts prevent ejection from a vehicle), and that they must be worn in the front seat and the back seat, every trip, every time. Talk to your teen about the seat belt laws in your state. Tell your teen that it's dangerous and reckless to ride in a car unbuckled. Make them aware of the consequences of not buckling up: tickets, loss of driving privileges, injury, or even death in the event of a crash.
- Set the example: One of the best things you can do as a parent and role model is to always wear your seat belt in the car. Children who grow up watching their parents buckle up are more likely to buckle up when they become drivers. And, before you ever pull out of the driveway, ensure all passengers are buckled to further impress upon your teen the importance of buckling up.
- Remind Them: This isn't a one-time conversation, it's an ongoing effort. Ask your teen often about wearing a seat belt, and give simple reminders from time to time. Something as simple as a sticky note in the car can be a helpful visual reminder to your teen driver. Your teen should buckle up every trip, as the driver, as a passenger, in the front seat, and in the back.
It only takes a few seconds to buckle up, but it could make the difference of a lifetime.
These days, teens are busier than ever: studying, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and spending time with friends are among the long list of things they do to fill their time. However, with all of these activities, teens tend to compromise on something very important—sleep. This is a dangerous habit that can lead to drowsy driving. In fact, in 2019, drowsy driving claimed 697 lives, and some studies even suggest drowsiness may have been involved in more than 10-20 percent of fatal or injury crashes.
Drowsy driving includes more than just falling asleep. It affects a driver’s alertness, attention, reaction time, judgement, and decision-making capabilities. Those who are at higher risk for a crash caused by drowsy driving include drivers 17-23 years old, and those who sleep less than six hours a night, drive on rural roads, or who drive between midnight and 6 a.m. Make sure your teen gets a good night’s sleep, and strictly monitor and limit their nighttime driving as your state's GDL law stipulates. Your teen's friends, passengers, and other drivers will thank them for driving safely.
What Can You Do?
To combat drowsy driving, parents should make sure that their teens get sufficient sleep at night by establishing and enforcing a regular bedtime, as well as limiting the use of electronic devices before bed. It has been well-documented that teens on average get far too little sleep on a regular basis, and this can jeopardize their ability to safely and effectively drive a motor vehicle. Too little sleep can also impact their performance in the classroom and during extracurricular activities.
Ensure your child has the sleep they need so they can drive as safely as possible.