When it comes to teaching them how to drive, it’s not just about getting from point A to point B. It’s about instilling lifelong safe driving habits.
With the help of Melissa Luxton, a trauma outreach and injury prevention coordinator with Banner – University Medicine, we break down 12 tips into three steps: Preparation, Practice and Progress.
These tips will help you guide your teen toward becoming a responsible and safe driver. So, buckle up and let’s go!
Step 1: Preparation
Lead by example
You are the number one influence on your teen’s driving safety.
“Self-reported surveys show that teens whose parents impose driving restrictions and set good examples typically engage in less risky driving and are involved in fewer crashes,” Luxton said.
Children often learn by observing their parents. To instill safe driving habits in your teen, be a good role model.
Here’s what you can do:
- Always wear your seatbelt.
- Obey traffic laws and speed limits.
- Avoid distractions like texting or talking on the phone.
- Stay calm and patient, even in traffic.
Understand your state’s Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program
Laws and restrictions can vary from state to state, but all U.S. states have a GDL system that limits high-risk driving situations for new drivers. The GDL program typically consists of three phases: learner’s permit, intermediate license and full license.
“This approach focuses on skill development, awareness of driving risks and gradual independence,” Luxton said. “And it’s shown to reduce teen crash risk by as much as 50%.”
Tour the vehicle
Before your teen hits the road, teach them the basics of the car they will be learning.
“Demonstrate how to adjust the seat and the rearview mirrors,” Luxton said. “Make any other necessary accommodations, such as tilting the steering wheel and reviewing the controls and features of the car.”
Teach your teen how to handle common roadside emergencies, such as changing a flat tire or jumping a dead battery.
Ensure they have essential items in the car, like a roadside car emergency kit. This usually includes a first-aid kit and jumper cables. You can find emergency kits at Target, Walmart or Amazon.
Set up emergency contacts so your teen knows who to call for an emergency.
Step 2: Practice
Before your teen gets their license, spend plenty of time practicing together.
“Start in a parking lot, then progress to quiet streets and eventually busier roads,” Luxton said.
Practice essential skills like:
- Parallel parking.
- Merging onto highways and freeways and navigating exit ramps.
- Handling different weather conditions like rain, snow or fog.
Once your teen has gained daytime driving experience, then introduce night driving. Explain the challenges of reduced visibility and the importance of using headlights and adjusting to different lighting conditions.
“Remember, building driving skills and confidence takes time,” Luxton said. “Gradual exposure to different driving scenarios and consistent practice will help them become safer and more confident drivers.”
Consider enrolling your teen in a driver’s education (AKA driver’s ed) course. These programs offer structured training that covers everything from basic skills to handling emergencies. Taking a course may also decrease your teen’s insurance rates.
Address critical road safety concerns
- Distracted driving: This is the leading cause of accidents among teens. Teach your teen to focus on the road and avoid activities like texting, talking on the phone, eating or applying makeup while driving.
- Speeding: Speeding increases the risk of accidents. Highlight the importance of obeying speed limits and slowing down for road conditions.
- Drunk driving and drug use: Remind your teen that underage drinking is illegal and driving under the influence of any substance can have deadly consequences. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teens are more likely than anyone else to be killed in an alcohol-related crash,” Luxton said.
- Seat belts: Make it clear that wearing seat belts is non-negotiable for everyone in the car. They are important for safety.
- Drowsy driving: Discuss the importance of getting enough sleep and avoiding drowsy driving. Fatigue can impair a driver’s judgment and reaction time.
Set clear boundaries
Establish ground rules for your teen driver, such as curfews, passenger limits and phone usage. Ensure they understand the consequences of breaking these rules and enforce them consistently, such as suspending their driving privileges or limiting cell phone usage.
Keep your cool
It can be stressful to try and teach your teen to drive, but it’s important to take a deep breath and remain calm. Avoid talking down to your teen (“You’re not paying attention”) or getting upset (“You’re going to get us killed—slow down!”).
- Be specific in what you want them to do.
- Give them lots of notice before they will do something.
- Ask questions to teach your teen to be aware of their surroundings.
- Offer praise for good performance.
Step 3: Progress
Monitor their progress
Once your teen has their license, continue riding with them periodically. Offer constructive feedback and ensure they maintain safe habits. Remember to keep your cool.
“The presence of peers and friends can distract your young driver,” Luxton said. Limit how many passengers can ride with your teenager, especially during the first few months of driving. Help your teen understand how peer pressure can impact their focus.
Be patient and supportive
Learning to drive can be stressful for both parents and teens. Be patient and offer encouragement as your teen gains confidence and experience. Celebrate their milestones and accomplishments.
Teaching your teen road safety and responsible driving is a critical task that requires patience, commitment and consistency. By setting a positive example, providing guidance and enforcing rules, you can help your teen become a safe and responsible driver.
Remember, your involvement in their driving education is an investment in their safety – now and into the future. Together, we can ensure the safety of our young drivers and the well-being of everyone on the road.