Earning a driver’s license is a rite of passage for most teens. Gaining the legal right to drive may symbolize freedom to a young person, but to parents, the idea of their child out on the road is a cause for worry and concern.
That concern is not unwarranted. Car accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,700 people ages 16 to 19 died in car crashes in 2010. Another 282,000 were seriously injured — and the costs of these accidents add up to 30 percent of the overall costs of motor vehicle accidents, or $19 billion.
The fact is the majority of accidents involving teen drivers are preventable. Inexperience, speed and distractions are the primary causes of most teen driving accidents, all factors that can be mitigated by strict supervision and guidelines for proper behavior behind the wheel.
Parents Are the First Line of Defense
All 50 states have taken steps to reduce the number of teen fatalities and injuries related to motor vehicle accidents by enacting three-step licensing rules. Drivers between ages 15 and 18 are no longer granted full driving privileges upon passing a road test. Instead, teens earn a learner’s permit, allowing them to learn to drive with supervision. This is followed by a provisional license that allows unsupervised driving with restrictions and finally, full, unrestricted licensure at age 18. The process helps reduce the factors that often lead to crashes, such as nighttime driving and driving with friends, giving young drivers the chance to gain confidence and experience in a more controlled environment.
The problem is that many of the restrictions of the provisional license are difficult to enforce, such as the section of the law prohibiting provisional drivers from transporting passengers who are not family members. Law enforcement generally cannot determine whether a driver has a provisional license or the relationship of the passengers — unless they conduct a traffic stop. That is why it is so important for parents to set strict driving ground rules for their teens and enforce consequences for breaking those rules.
Develop a Written Contract
When your teen earns her first driver’s license, develop a written contract outlining the rules and your expectations for her proper behavior. Ideally, the contract should cover the rules regarding:
- Cellphone usage. Restrict in-car calls and texts to emergencies only, and only when the vehicle is stopped.
- Nighttime restrictions. Most states prohibit provisional drivers from driving after 9 p.m. Reiterate those restrictions, and if necessary set an earlier curfew.
- Weather. Outline whether your teen may drive in extreme weather and when she is required to stop driving.
- Geographic restrictions. Freeways and busy streets can be overwhelming to young drivers who may be tempted to take chances they would not otherwise. Inform your teen as to where she is allowed to drive, and develop a plan to give her more practice in prohibited areas.
- Speeding. You may not know that your teen is speeding, but reiterate the need for prudent speed. Require your teen to pay the fines and insurance increases for speeding tickets, and establish consequences for violations.
- Drinking and driving. Remind your teen that there will be zero tolerance of driving under the influence.
Your teen may resist the additional rules, but remind her that you are acting in her best interests and safety. Remind your teen that driving is a privilege, not a right; every time she gets behind the wheel, she is responsible for not only her life, but the lives of others as well. When you reinforce the existing laws and enforce consequences, your teen will grow into a safe and confident driver.