Giving your child the keys to the car is an act of faith. You can’t be there all the time, and sooner or later they’ll have to survive on their own. But there are several things parents can do that will give themselves peace of mind and also keep their young driver safe on the road.
How parents can keep teens safe on the road
- Place reasonable restrictions on a teen’s driving
According to a study by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, kids with easy access to a vehicle are more likely to crash. Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., the study’s lead author, suggests that you have your teen ask permission to drive for at least the first 6 to 12 months after she has her license. You shouldn’t feel a need to restrict driving for any old reason just to be a scrooge, but your teen shouldn’t assume they can drive the car whenever they want, for any old reason, either – at least not when they are first starting out. Simply maintaining an “ask first” policy can require them to think about when they need the car and how legitimate their reason is, cutting down on unnecessary trips. Set a date for when this policy will expire, so that your teen knows you’re not just trying to ride their back. It will make them more likely to comply with such rules.
- When you do let your teen out, be flexible about curfews
Curfews can kill children. Literally. Thousands of fatal accidents have been attributed to a teen rushing home to try and meet some inflexible curfew to keep from getting in trouble. If you set up a curfew for your child, implement some sort of flexible time exchange program that isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. If your teen’s curfew is midnight, and they arrive 15 minutes later, deduct 15 minutes from the next night out. Or offer other ways they can earn minutes or extensions to their curfew. This way, your child isn’t killed rushing home to get there at 11:59 instead of 12:02.
- Make your teen work for it
Statistics also show that the more a new driver has to go through to get their license, the safer they’ll be behind the wheel. This doesn’t have to be all driving experience. While extra elective classes such as driver’s ed can add additional work to the process, so can mental tasks. We have a teen area filled with different driving advice you can have them read and quiz them on. You can require them to go through the newspaper and write a short essay on the different fatal car crashes they encounter. You can require that they read additional books on driving safety from the library.
One well-established principle of psychology is that the more effort a person devotes towards a particular thing, the more they’ll value it. So anything that gives them more training and a higher work versus reward ratio (with the reward being driving) can make them a more cautious driver. It works best if you begin some of these things well before they begin driving, perhaps at age 14 or 15. Before they actually get behind the wheel, they’ll be excited simply by the prospect of driving, and will be less likely to view this task as unnecessary homework.
- Discuss expectations
Begin talking about your expectations early. You’d be surprised at how many parents fail to do this…they either take it as a given that kids know what their expectations are, or it gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the process, as so many things in life have a tendency to do. But you should clearly state and repeatedly emphasize the following expectations:
- Distracted driving will not be tolerated.
- I expect you to guard against peer pressure and refrain from goofing off behind the wheel.
- I expect you to stay off your cell phone when driving.
- I expect you not to drink and drive. If you’re ever not OK to get behind the wheel, for whatever reason, I expect you to call me.
- I expect you to pull over to the side of the road if you need to text or talk on the phone.
- I expect you to always wear your seatbelt whether driving or riding in someone else’s car.
- I expect these things because the dangers are real, and I love you and want to see you become a wonderful driver.
Additional expectations you might consider:
- I expect you to keep friends out of the car when driving, except under certain circumstances
- I expect you to keep the music down
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