If you’re a parent, you likely experience feelings of excitement and fear when it comes to thoughts of your teen getting behind the wheel. There’s plenty of reason for concern. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teens 16 to 19 are three times more likely to get into a fatal crash than those who are 20 or older.
So, it’s critical to make sure your teen doesn’t just understand the rules or the road but appreciates and follows them. Becoming a safe, responsible driver requires experience, education, and a fair amount of patience on the part of parents. Here are some tips to help parents navigate their teen’s learning curve.
1. Create an Agreement
It’s important for teens and parents to be on the same page when it comes to driving responsibilities. Parents and teens often create agreements, like this one we created.
In this agreement, teens put in writing their responsibilities when it comes to driving. Parents do the same. Questions around when the car can be used, who will pay for gas and insurance, as well as behavioral expectations, should all be included in it. This is a time where you can address issues such as rules for driving at night, with peers, and not driving when you’re angry or upset.
“It’s good for the teen to fill one out and the parent to fill one out; then they come together to discuss and reach a common consensus,” said Jacob Smith, program manager with the National Safety Council. “These agreements should never be one and done and you should be going back to them and modifying as needs change.”
2. Tap Online and In-Person Instruction
While your teen is learning to drive, you’ll have your own opportunities to instruct and guide, especially while he or she has a learner’s permit. It’s also a good idea to supplement that experience with online teen driver’s education courses. And while you undoubtedly will share a lot of your own experience in helping your teen learn to be a safe driver, you can have them also take driving lessons from a professional driving instructor as well.
3. Recognize Your Own Driving Weaknesses
Often times, as experienced drivers, it can be difficult to teach something we’ve been doing for a long time. Teaching others allows us to reflect on some of the bad habits we’ve created during all those years of experience. Admitting you do something incorrectly and demonstrating a willingness to change it will only garner respect from your teen. Then, he or she might be more willing to listen to you when it’s really needed.
4. Encourage Your Teen to Be a Safety Expert
Too often, older generations get caught up in stereotypes about younger generations and encourage negative talk about a lack of work ethic or responsibility. But many parents of new drivers are also surprised to learn how attentive many teens are to the safety rules.
Think about it. When you’re a student of a subject, you’re much more in tune with the fundamentals because you’re learning so many things for the first time. Remember, Smith adds, this generation will also be the one leading the way with future changes to make driving safer for everyone.
“Teens can often be the ones speaking up about unsafe practices,” Smith said. “If you give them the tools, they can be a better driver than you, and this can be an opportunity for them to be a leader in road safety.”
5. Check Your Emotions
Something that’s also often listed in agreements is for both parties to check their emotions when it comes to the subject of driving. Teens are encouraged to write in their agreements that they will not drive if they're angry or upset. That rule must apply to parents as well, whether they're modeling driving habits behind the wheel or being a passenger while the teen drives.
Harping on mistakes, raising your voice, and shouting instructions only adds tension to the situation. And it can damage the learning experience for the teen. If a parent’s behavior isn’t in check, you can bet a teen will struggle to be a safe, responsible driver.
Getting a driver’s license is a time where a teen gains new freedom. At the same time, parents must explain that driving is indeed a privilege, not a right, and protecting that privilege as a safe, defensive and responsible driver is the best gift a teen can give to a parent — and to the many others with whom he or she shares the road.