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Steering Your Teen Toward Safe Driving

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by

Father Steven Boes, President and Executive Director, Boys Town

Steering Your Teen Toward Safe Driving

Most parents see it as a blessing when their teen can finally start driving. They love the thought of not having to play chauffeur anymore, and welcome the convenience of having someone who can drive to the store for a few groceries or give a younger sibling a ride to school.

What parents must realize, however, is that the biggest threat to the safety of a teen with a driver’s license is sitting right in their own driveway.

Consider these sobering statistics:

  • In 2013, just under a million teenage drivers were involved in police-reported crashes, resulting in 373,645 injuries and 2,927 deaths (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety).
  • Every day, an average of six teenagers die from motor vehicle injuries (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Among youth ages 16 and 17, the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents exceed those from suicide, cancer, and other types of accidents (HumanFIRST Laboratory at the University of Minnesota).

Does this mean you should ban your teen from driving until he or she is an adult and out of this adolescent “danger zone”? No. That would be neither practical nor reasonable. But you should give a lot of thought to your decision to allow your child to drive and then set some basic expectations before handing over the car keys:

  • Driver’s education is a must. Depending on where you live, driver’s education classes may be offered through your teen’s school or by private driving schools. (Your car insurance company also may require them for your teen as a condition of coverage.) Such training is invaluable in preparing your teen to be an alert, conscientious driver.
  • No phones, few friends, and no fooling around.  Distractions while driving are a major cause of accidents involving young drivers. For example, a teen driver with three teen passengers is four times more likely to have a serious crash than a teen driving alone. Have your teen make and enforce a pledge with their friends never to text and drive. Also, let your teen know it’s okay to say something and get out of someone’s car if he or she doesn’t feel safe.
  • Model positive driving behaviors. Studies show that when parents buckle up and stay off their cell phone while driving, their kids are more likely to do the same.
  • Consider getting your teen a safe, used vehicle. We suggest a huge, old, slow “tank” with lots of dents.  The last thing a novice driver needs is a souped-up hot rod that makes the temptation to speed and show off irresistible.
  • Consider installing a GPS monitor in the car your teen drives.  This gives you a way to check on his or her whereabouts any time.
  • Make sure your teen knows driving is a privilege, not a right. Just like any other privilege, you can grant or take away access to the car depending on how well or how poorly your teen follows the rules you set.
  • Create a special blessing for your teen’s car, and when he or she is leaving to drive somewhere,  ask for God’s protection and remind your teen to uphold the values you share as a family.

As kids get older, it’s normal for parents to give them more freedom and “loosen the reins” of adult authority a bit. But when it comes to teen driving, parents should constantly preach safety first and focus on making sure their child understands the immense responsibility that goes with getting behind the wheel.

For more tips and a parent’s perspective on teen driving, visit this Boys Town blog at: My View from the Passenger Seat – Teaching My Teen to Drive.