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Raising a safe teen driver

Parents can do a lot to ensure that their teens become safe drivers.

As a teen you were probably thrilled with the idea of getting behind the wheel of a car.

But as a parent teaching your teen to drive, you might notice that the thrill is gone. It's been replaced by worry. And for good reason. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens and young adults, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). And drivers under 20 are at highest risk. Drivers 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than those 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.

A contract for safety

You can play a big role in helping make your child a safe driver. Start by setting a good example for your child by practicing safe driving habits when you're behind the wheel.

Also consider writing up a contract that specifies the rules for driving. The contract might cover things such as:

Nighttime driving. The fatal crash rate for teens is about four times as high at night as it is during the day, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Consider setting an early curfew for car and driver to be back in the driveway.

Passengers. The more passengers a teen carries in the car, the more likely a crash is to occur, according to the IIHS. That's because passengers act as a distraction. Plus, teens often show off in front of friends by engaging in dangerous behaviors. Consider restricting the number of teen passengers to one—or even none.

Seat belts. Stress the necessity of using a seat belt at all times, whether your teen is the driver or a passenger.

Cellphones. Make sure your child knows never to talk on a phone or text while driving.

Drugs and alcohol. Teens shouldn't be using alcohol or drugs no matter what. But it's important to stress never to drive after using even a small amount of these substances.

Practice (and then practice some more)

Once the rules are clear, climb in the car and let your teen drive. Then do the same the next day and the next.

Even if your child is taking driver's education, you still need to give him or her plenty of practice. That's because most of these classes only give a driver six hours behind the wheel, according to the AAP.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that new drivers get at least 30 to 50 hours of supervised practice over at least six months.

You may start out practicing in a parking lot, but over time you should introduce your teen to more complex driving situations. You might practice:

  • Nighttime driving.
  • Freeway driving.
  • Driving in rain or snow.
  • Driving in rush-hour traffic.

A graduated program

The AAP recommends that teens not receive an unrestricted driver's license until they are 18 or they have been driving under adult supervision for at least 2 years.

Some states have instituted laws known as graduated licensing systems that mandate practice and supervision. These laws may include:

A learner's-permit phase that requires an adult driver (at least 21 years old) to be in the car with the teen driver at all times. The teen driver needs to be at least 16 years of age to obtain a permit. The permit phase lasts at least 6 months and includes 30 to 50 hours of driving practice.

A provisional phase that lasts until at least 18 years of age. During this phase, the teen driver is not allowed to be on the road without an adult passenger between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. For the first 12 months, the driver can have no more than 1 teenage passenger. Afterward, and until age 18, the number of teen passengers is limited to 2.

Under these laws, drivers must wear seat belts and refrain from cellphone use while driving. Violation of any of the rules results in fines or license suspension.

If your state has not yet adopted a graduated licensing system, you can create your own. It won't take away all your worries, but it will go a long way toward helping your teen be a safer driver.

Reviewed 5/19/2023

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