Parenthood means getting to celebrate tons of milestones with your kids. Those first steps. Those first days of school. That first boyfriend or girlfriend. These are celebrated with gusto, and a box of tissues handy for the sentimental among us. Yet there’s one milestone that most parents feel largely unprepared for: teenage driving.
Giving your teen the keys to his or her first car is a moment that you may face with fear and trepidation—and for good reason. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found that a total of 2,715 teen drivers died in motor vehicle crashes in 2015, and 62 percent of those who died were the drivers of the vehicles. In addition, 55 percent of teenage passengers killed that year were passengers in cars driven by another teen. Simply put, teen drivers are a pretty big risk on the road. When that teen driver is your child, you are going to feel especially nervous.
But before you threaten to lock them away for their own safety—there’s good news. If you can give your child a little encouragement and maybe even tap into some technology, you can raise a responsible and reliable driver, starting in their teen years. Here are some strategies and tricks that you can implement as you help your teen be as safe a driver as possible.
Teen Driving Resources — Where Do You Begin?
How to Be Heard by Your Teen
Let’s face it: teens aren’t exactly known for listening to their parents. But that’s exactly what you need (and want) when you’re talking to your teen about driving and driving safety. Try these tips at home to make sure you’re having the most effective conversation possible.
- Choose the right moment — Try to find a time when you can naturally ease driving safety into the conversation. Most likely, your teen is going to be excited about driving, so take the time to have the conversation when the topic comes up naturally.
- Ask questions — When a conversation starter presents itself, ask your teen questions. Questions like, “what did you think about that?” or “why do you think that happened?” will get the conversation started and give you great insight into what your teen really thinks about the scenario, while also empowering them to become more thoughtful drivers.
- Stay calm — No matter how upset you are or passionate you feel, you must stay calm or your teen will shut you out. Even if your teen has made a dire mistake, getting angry isn’t going to help the situation. Instead, it will prevent you from having an honest conversation in the future.
- Set aside your other concerns — Of course you have work deadlines, texts to respond to, and other children who need your attention, but when you’re talking to your teen, set these things aside and just focus on the conversation at-hand. They will know when you aren’t present.
- Keep safety as the priority —When talking about driving, keep safety as the top priority. Knowing that you want what’s best for them, rather than simply wanting to keep them from having any fun, will make them more responsive to your message.
- Lead by example — Make sure you are setting the example of good driving. If you’re telling your teen not to text and drive, but they see you doing it all the time, they aren’t going to listen. Actions speak way louder than words.
- Set and stick to boundaries — If your teen knows you’re going to take away the keys if they don’t follow your directions, then you’ll have a ready listener on your hands.
For more information about how to talk to your teen, visit:
- Drive Alive: How to Talk to Your Teen About Safe Driving
- Scott Gottlieb Law: How to Talk to Teens About Distracted Driving
- Ford Driving Skills for Life: How to Talk and Listen to Your Teen about Safe Summer Driving
- Guardian Interlock: Teens Actually Listen, so Talk to Them About Underage Drinking
- CNN: OMG! Your Teen Actually Talks to You?
Driving Tips for Teen Drivers
Now that you have your teen’s ear, what’s important for them to know? Here are some driving tips that are excellent for ALL drivers, but especially teen drivers:
- Always obey the speed limit. This gives inexperienced drivers time to react if they experience a challenging scenario. Consider quizzing your child ahead of time as you drive around to get them used to being aware of the speed limit.
- Put the headrest behind your head, not your neck, to provide protection.
- Don’t follow too closely behind other drivers. Follow the 2-second rule!
- Assume other drivers aren’t going to act as they should. For example, if a driver has his turn signal on, don’t assume he’s turning. He may have simply forgotten to turn it off.
- Look at the intersection before going on a green light to make sure everyone’s clear and no one is running the light.
- Avoid distractions by putting the cell phone in the glove box until you get to your destination.
- Don’t drive with friends in the car until you’re quite confident. Most states actually have some set of laws that limit the number of passengers in the first six months of driving. Some laws even prohibit first-time drivers from being on the road at night.
- NEVER drink and drive. You are NOT the exception.
- Turn on the headlights, even during the day. This increases your visibility and protects against forgetting to turn them on when they’re needed.
- Be familiar with defensive driving techniques.
For more excellent tips on teen driving, check out:
- TeenDriving.com: Driving Tips on the Road
- Consumer Reports: 10 Tips for Drivers and Their Parents
- Cell Control: 12 Driving Safety Tips for Teaching Your Teen to Drive
Public Initiatives to Reinforce Safe Teen Driving
If you’re worried about your teen driving safely, rest assured that you’re not alone. There are many public initiatives that help reinforce important ideas behind safe teen driving, with a heavy focus on the biggest risk: distracted driving. If you feel your teen’s not listening to you, tap into some of these resources:
- National Safety Council: Graduate Driver Licensing — This tiered licensing system is being embraced by many states and has been proven to reduce teen crash risk significantly. It takes teens through three stages: starting with a learner’s permit, then a restricted license, followed by a full license.
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety — One of the oldest traffic safety-oriented groups in the country, they were founded in 1947 to research the perils of the growing highway system.
- Teen Crashes GTG — This program allows student groups to implement traffic safety awareness activities at their schools and provides grant money for their efforts.
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute: Teen Driver Safety Initiative — This program has research projects that focus entirely on teen driving safety within the context of injury prevention.
- National Teen Driver Safety Week — This week, set aside in October, focuses on proper education to encourage safe teen driving.
- Impact Teen Drivers — This nonprofit combats reckless and distracted driving through implementing guides and workshops. To date, it has reached over 2 million teen drivers since its 2007 inception.
- End Distracted Driving — This organization hosts presentations about distracted driving and its dangers.
- StopDistractions.org — Another organization aimed at putting a stop to distracted driving through better driver education.
- DropItAndDrive — This group’s goal is to maintain the conversation about just how unacceptable it is to text and drive, so that it becomes as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving. One of the coolest things they offer is an online simulation tool.
- TrafficSafetyMarketing.gov — This organization sponsors several programs aimed at raising awareness about a number of safety issues, including teen driving safety.
Choosing the Right Car for Your Teen Driver
The car you and your teen purchase together can have lasting effects on their driving habits. Some cars are built safer than others, while some cars are meant for speed or entertainment — which might not be the best option for a brand new driver. Here are some tips to choosing a good car that is as safe as possible for a teen driver.
- Avoid high horsepower — Too much power is often tempting for teens to speed unnecessarily.
- Choose bigger, heavier vehicles — They offer better protection in the event of a crash and are also less prone to crashing in general.
- Avoid small SUVs — Small SUVs are notoriously unstable in a crash and they have a high risk of rollover. Opt for a large car or a larger SUV instead.
- Check for recalls — Check the recall based on the vehicle’s VIN (vehicle identification number) or vehicle type before buying. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers this service for free.
- Don’t go too old — Of course, you want to save as much money as you can, but older cars usually aren’t designed with as much crash protection as newer models. Try to choose something six years old or newer if your budget allows.
- Insist on Electronic Stability Control — This helps keep drivers in control in wet, slippery conditions.
- Choose one with high safety ratings — Make sure the car you choose has the necessary safety features and build-in design to keep your teen protected. These ratings focus on assessing perils while on the road.
- Watch for built-in distractions — On-board media systems, entertainment for rear passengers, Bluetooth connectivity — these are great for seasoned drivers, but they can provide serious distraction for inexperienced drivers. If you can avoid these upgrades, go ahead and do so.
For more advice about choosing a car for your teen, visit:
- Quoted: Top 5 Cars For Your Teen
- IIHS.org – Best Cars For Teens
- TeenDriving.com: Buying a Safe Car for Your Teen
- US News and World Report: 11 Excellent Cars for Teens
- Edmunds: 10 Best Cars for Teen Drivers
Teen Drivers and Your Insurance
Once you hand over the keys to your teen driver, you’re going to have to add them to your insurance policy. Of course, you wouldn’t want to let your teen out on the road without proper coverage, but many parents are surprised by what happens to their insurance rates when they add their teen.
According to The Zebra’s State of Auto Insurance report, teens could pay an average annual premium of nearly $5,000 (if they were not on a parent’s or guardian’s policy), which is more than three times the average rates of anyone ages 30 to 85.
Teen car insurance is no doubt costly, but there’s a reason for that. The CDC estimates that drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are three times more likely to be in a crash than those over the age of 20. Teens can be risky drivers, and therefore they cost more to insure. Here’s what you need to know about teen drivers and auto insurance, before you go ahead and shop for insurance quotes:
- Yes, insurance is required — Just because your driver is new and still lives at home doesn’t mean they don’t need their own insurance policy. Contact your insurance company to see what policies they offer.
- Yes, you must insure the driver, even if he owns his car — Minors can’t legally sign contracts, including insurance agreements, without parental consent.
- Teens are expensive to insure — Because teens are the riskiest drivers on the road, your insurance company is going to charge a higher premium for them. While each policy is unique, your monthly premium could go up by $800 or more when adding a teen.
- You can save money by choosing your teen’s car — Assigning your teen to the car that’s the cheapest to insure on your insurance policy may help you save. If you’re buying a car, the IIHS has a list of insurance losses for the different makes and models. One with low insurance losses is likely more affordable to insure.
- Adding to your existing policy is best — This is typically the cheapest way to insure a teen driver.
- Get discounts for good grades — Students who maintain at least a “B” average in high school can get a discount on insurance with most providers. Good students get the rewards—or at least help get relatively cheap insurance, which in turn helps you keep them safe on the road. Be aware, though: insurance companies occasionally request updated report cards to make sure your teen is maintaining their high grades.
- Bundle your policies to save — Bundling insurance for other items, like your home or life insurance, with your car insurance can help lower rates.
- Keep the car at home — When you send your teen off to college, keep the car at home if possible. Your insurance provider will drop your teen’s rates since they’re away from home and not using the car regularly.
- Keep the record clean — After a few years of driving, you’ll see your rates drop if your teen keeps their driving record clean.
- Consider a monitoring device — Some insurance providers allow parents to install monitoring devices in the car to track driving behavior, and they may lower insurance rates if the device shows the teen is staying on the straight and narrow.
For more information about teen drivers and insurance, visit:
- Quoted: Car Insurance for First Time Drivers
- Quoted: How to Lower Car Insurance for Young Drivers
- Fox Business: A Parent’s Guide to Insuring Teen Drivers
- DMV.org: Insuring My Teen Driver FAQ
- Forbes: The staggering Cost to Insure Teen Drivers
Still a Little Nervous? Consider These Apps to Help
Technology can be your friend when it comes to keeping your teen driver safe. Here are some apps that can help you keep your teenagers safer on the road.
- Automatic — This app is a car-motoring app that gives you insight into your teen’s driving behavior, along with crash alert with emergency response contacts.
- Cellcontrol — This app stops most apps on the phone from being usable when the car is in motion. This virtually eliminates all sources of distracted driving.
- Drive Beehive — The developers for this app recently partnered with TextNinja to bring you driving safety features that are gamified and collaborative as a way to help incentivize safety and responsibility.
- DriveMode — Designed to streamline your voice activation to match the processes you use the most from music through navigation (even letting you reply to Facebook messages), this app makes it super easy to go hands-free.
- DriveSafe.ly — You know your teen isn’t going to send a text while driving, but what happens when she receives one? Is she going to glance down? DriveSafe.ly reads emails and texts out loud and allows for a voice response without the driver having to touch the phone.
- Driving101 – Keep defensive driving tips readily on-hand, including weather-related safety tips and recommendations.
- Flo — Give it permission and Flo analyzes your driving to give you tips to optimize everything from safety to gas mileage.
- Hum — This service sets up boundary alerts, alerts when teens aren’t driving safely, reminders for car maintenance, and vehicle location to guide drivers to their cars in a crowded parking lot.
- LifeSaver — This app blocks phone-use while driving. You can also set up notifications to be sent to loved ones to indicate that you’ve reached your destination safely.
- RoadReady — This free app tracks driving experience, including the supervised driving time you need to log for your state’s licensing requirements. Simply open the app every time you drive with your teen and log the time spent with the touch of a button.
- SecuraFone — This app promotes safe driving by automatically dialing numbers, offering a panic slider for emergency services, and a list of customizable safety alerts. It also features alerts for speed and directions to a specific location.
- Steer Clear — Designed for drivers under the age of 25, this app includes a Safe Driver Pledge, then offers teens the ability to earn discounts on insurance while learning safe driving behaviors.
- Text Limit — Text Limit allows you to set a minimum speed at which you want the phone to disable its distracting features. It also allows you to get an alert if your teen exceeds your maximum allowed speed. The geolocator lets you find the phone any time you want.
- TrueMotion — This app lets you see where your teen is, as well as their travel history. It gives insights into safe driving and even shows your teen’s rank compared to the rest of the family. You just might find that your teen’s the safest one in the bunch!
Teen Drivers with Special Needs — Understanding A Unique Situation
If your teen has been diagnosed with a learning disability, a developmental disorder, autism, ADHD, or some other special need, then the driving years come with a list of additional considerations. To make the process less stressful for you and your special needs teen, read over these tips:
- Assess your teen’s readiness — Not all teens are ready to drive at 16, and those with special needs especially may need more time to get emotionally and mentally ready for the process. Waiting is okay if your teen’s not ready.
- Consider simulation training — Special needs children are going to need additional help learning to drive, with additional practice. Consider AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Driver-Zed program, which you can do on your computer. This tool is great practice for your special needs teen, as it gives them practice driving in a virtual environment before hitting the very real and dangerous roads.
- Analyze competency — Driving requires three types of competency: operational, tactical and strategic. If your child’s special needs impair any of these, then they should wait and get additional training before you hand over the keys.
- Remember safety — If your teen is frustrated with the slow process of acquiring a license, remind them that safety is the most important factor to consider. Taking it slow now will be better than going to fast later and being unprepared.
- Remember brain development differences — Most teens are not quite as mentally developed as they look on the outside. Teens with problems like ADHD may have a delayed maturation of their frontal cortex, and may be even less mentally mature than their same-age peers. This puts them at high risk for unsafe driving behaviors, so move forward with caution.
- Treat your child as an individual — Your child’s disability may not be the same as his friend’s. The same disability in two separate children may manifest in different ways. Assess your child’s unique needs before making a decision about driving, and use your best judgement to guide how you build safety strategies with your child.
- Enlist driving instructors — Even if your state doesn’t require an educational class (sometimes called driver’s ed), students with special needs often require the additional assessment and guidance of a trained instructor to ensure they are ready for the road. A trained instructor might have alternative teaching tools available to them that will provide a more complete education for your teen, even off the road. Check to see if you can find one that specializes in your child’s disability.
- Remember that some special needs may make some drivers safer — One study found that only 12 percent of autistic teen drivers had been in an accident or received a ticket, compared to 31 percent of all teens who have gotten a ticket.
- Most states require reporting of certain types of disabilities — Disabilities like autism or ADHD that might affect a driver’s safety must be reported when applying for a license, but they don’t necessarily disqualify a teen from getting a license.
- Check with local associations affiliated with your child’s special needs — They may have advice on local regulations and resources to make your decision process easier.
- Talk to your child’s doctor — Partner with your medical provider to learn all you can about the benefits and risks of allowing your child to get a license. Some states will require a medical release stating that your child is ready to learn to drive.
For more information about how to help teens with special needs learn to drive, visit:
- The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Center for Injury Research and Prevention: Developmental Disabilities and Driving
- Montgomery College: Driver Education Special Needs Classes
- Learning Disabilities Association of America: The LD/ADHD Teen Driver – Risky Business or Worth the Risk?
- Medscape: Should Some Autistic Teens Drive?
- NHTSA: Drivers with Disabilities
- Teen Driver Source: Driver Ed for People with Special Needs