Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for teens. Parents can make a difference in teen driver safety. Here are six tips to help make the experience successful and rewarding.
#1. Prioritize On-the-Road Practice
Inexperience is a major cause of crashes and injuries for teen drivers. Set aside time each week for driving practice sessions. Start with low-risk situations — daylight, good weather and very low traffic areas. As your teen becomes more competent, gradually progress to more challenging driving situations — nighttime, rainy or bad weather and high traffic areas. Go the National Safety Counsel’s website DriveitHome to sign up for a teen driver safety assignment delivered each week by email.
#2. Facilitate Mental Rehearsal
Help your teen mentally prepare for driving situations before she gets behind the wheel. As you are driving, anticipate upcoming situations and ask your teen what she would do. Then explain your reasoning as you encounter the situation. For example, “I need to turn left into the grocery store parking lot, so I will wait for a gap in the oncoming traffic. I’m not going to make the turn until I’m sure I have enough time to do it safely. That blue car is traveling fast. I didn’t turn in front of it because I wasn’t sure there would be enough time. When making driving decisions, prioritize safety first.”
One dad in Austin wanted to impress on his son the importance of reading speed limit signs. When the family took a 3-hour car trip, he asked his teen to read every single speed limit sign out loud. If the teen missed a sign, he would point it out. “Hey son! You missed that 25 MPH sign. You want to be sure you don’t miss one. The last speed limit sign was 45 MPH. That’s too fast for the tight curves up ahead.”
#3. Engage in Constructive Feedback
Teaching a teen to drive can be stressful. All beginning drivers make mistakes. Anticipate mistakes and think about how you will handle them. Make your comments about the action, not the driver. You make be tempted to say, “What are you doing? Are you trying to get us all killed!” Instead, focus on the situation: “It would have been better if you had waited for more room before you merged into traffic as opposed to pulling in front of that 18-wheeler with only a few feet to spare. The driver had to slam on his brakes. A heavy truck like that can’t slow down as quickly as a car, so we were very lucky this time.” After the driving practice session is over, debrief the situation with your teen. Ask him to talk about his reasons for the decision. Then talk about how to improve decision-making next time. Give liberal positive feedback for good decisions and thoughtful discussions.
#4. Be a Role Model
Even though teens won’t admit it, they learn from what their parents do. Engage in the same driving habits that you want your teen to have. In the past week, have you modeled any of the following bad behaviors:
- Talked on your cell phone or texted while driving
- Exceeded the speed limit because you were late or in a hurry
- Failed to maintain adequate distance behind a vehicle because they weren’t going fast enough to suit you
- Blasted through a traffic light that had “just” turned red when you could have safely stopped
- Had just a “few” drinks and then driven home?
#5. Warn Against Distracted Driving
It is easy for a teen to become distracted. Cell phone use is a common and dangerous distraction. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that texting while driving increases the risk of a vehicle crash by 23 times. But cell phones aren’t the only culprit. Activities that cause your teen to take her eyes off the road include eating while driving, pressing buttons to change music, applying makeup or looking for something. Taking the focus off the road for even a few seconds can have dangerous consequences. Educate your teen about the risk of distracted driving. Discuss alternatives, such as pulling into a parking lot to text or finishing a snack before hitting the road.
#6. Set Rules
Help create successful driving experiences by creating rules for your teen based on age and driving experience. Start with the “5 to Drive” from the NHTSA:
- No cell phones while driving
- No extra passengers
- No speeding
- No alcohol
- No riding or driving without a seat belt.
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer based in Austin.