• Rules for Your Ride

    (October 2010) Driving or riding in cars can seem like the most trivial, mundane thing—after all, it's something most of us do every day. But if you really think about it, driving is a big deal. We're hurling ourselves through time and space in plastic and metal boxes. Weird. And when we're the one driving, our actions control the life or death of our passengers and other people on the road. When you consider that car crashes are the leading cause of death for 15-20 year olds, suddenly, driving becomes a huge deal. Of course it's easy to forget about all this when you're rocking out with a carload of friends on the way to the beach, so it's best to build good habits from the get-go. This all starts by getting the proper in-car training before you become your crew's taxi. But beyond that, here are five ways to keep you and your friends alive while driving around.

    • Pony up for roadside assistance. (Or, better yet, convince your parents to.) True, there are far sexier purchases (hello, shoes!) than a roadside assistance membership, but few are more important when you're totally stranded at 20 minutes to curfew. Organizations like AAA can be a life and money saver when it comes to breakdowns, an empty gas tank or getting stuck in the mud. After you've become a member, be sure to store their phone number in your phone, along with other emergency contact numbers like those of your insurance company, mechanic and your local police station.

    • Put the phone down. (And that burger, while you're at it). You've heard it a million times and for good reason: multitasking behind the wheel (aka distracted driving) is just plain dumb, no matter how much driving experience you have. Why? First, it's against the law in several states (check this site to get the scoop on your state's driving laws) and second, it's dangerous. There's so much to pay attention to outside of your car—like skateboarders, sudden traffic, debris, dicey weather and street signs—there's no way you can take everything in and check your Facebook at the same time.

      So, while you're driving, keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. If you need to send a text, have a co-pilot do it for you, or wait until you've stopped your car. If you think you'll have a hard time ignoring your phone—and let's face it, it's a really hard thing to do—disable your phone while driving with a service like TeenSafer, CellControl or iZup. Many of these services use GPS or Bluetooth to determine when you're behind the wheel, then automatically blocks calls and texts (and sends auto-replies to let people know you're driving) until you've safely stopped the car. Even better, they cost just a few bucks a month.

    • KIT with your parents. If you're going away for a night or more, give your family your itinerary and license plate number. Arrange check-in times and actually call at those appointed times. Why? Your parents will be thrilled that you are being so responsible (and will be more likely to give you more freedom in the future), and it will serve as vital information to authorities should you go lost or missing.

    • Lay down the law. Make sure your friends buckle up and abide any other rules (like not playing media, drinking alcohol or excessively talking on the phone) you have while hauling them around. This is way easier said than done; once you're behind the wheel, otherwise awesome friends can suddenly turn into clueless jerks. While not chipping in for gas can be totally annoying, ignoring safety laws or distracting the driver is just plain rude. So, take the time to tell your friends how they can respect you and your ride, and come up with creative ways to enforce your rules. For example, to make sure your passengers know you're serious about seat belt laws, refuse to start the car until everyone's buckled up. (And if it takes a few minutes? Well, that can be a great time to catch up on texts).

    • Give yourself lots of time. Most of us know better than to blaze right over the speed limit or pause at stop signs, but when we're late for school, work or an appointment, we suddenly become susceptible to fudging all kinds of laws. And that's when accidents happen. So, to avoid the panicked rush, give yourself more time than needed to get somewhere. When making plans, appoint windows of time, not specific times of day to meet up. You're way more likely to be on time and avoid behind-the-wheel stress if you're supposed to be somewhere between 4 and 4:30 than if you're supposed to arrive at 4 o'clock sharp.

  • Read more from Erika Stalder

    In The Driver's Seat
    Buy The Book

    DriversEd.com guest columnist Erika Stalder is an author, advice columnist and blogger who writes about teen life, lust and adventures behind the wheel. Her latest book, In The Driver's Seat: A Girl's Guide To Her First Car helps turn new drivers into savvy ones.

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