A few years back there used to be a commercial running, probably advertising car insurance, that portrayed a young girl about five years old asking her father for the car keys. The camera pans to the father, a look of disbelief on his face, and then turns back to the girl, now a teenager, eagerly awaiting her father’s response. In some ways, the marketing behind the commercial was brilliant. Why? Because it rings true for so many of us. Before we know it, our sweet, innocent children are just itching to head out into the world and take advantage of the new found freedom that comes with a fresh driver’s license. However, driving is not a safe activity—the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety says that 40,000 people a year die as a result of car crashes—and teen drivers seem to be especially as risk. As a parent, it’s important to prepare your teen to be the best driver he or she can be. When your teen is working towards a driver’s license, take the time to talk about these issues before handing over the car keys.
Getting Stopped By a Police Officer
This can be intimidating for adults, so you can imagine how a first time driver might feel. Instruct your child to pull the vehicle off the road, roll down the window, and wait for the officer to approach the vehicle. If your teen has a stubborn streak, caution them that arguing with an officer usually makes things worse, not better. Make sure your teen knows where the car’s license and registration papers are kept in case the office requests them.
Talking While Driving
Talk with your teen about using cell phones in the car. This probably wasn’t an issue when you were learning to drive, but it’s an incredibly important safety issue for today’s generation. More and more states are enacting laws against cell phone usage while driving, and your teen needs to understand that disregarding these legalities can result in heavy fines and major accidents. Make it clear that texting and driving is never a good idea, not even when the car is idling at an intersection. Provide a good example and adhere to these guidelines yourself—teens will dismiss warnings if your actions contradict your words.
Handling an Accident
If your teen is involved in an accident, knowing what to do will help them cope with the situation. Tell them that safety is always the first priority, so they should take the following actions as long as they have no serious injuries: if possible, pull the vehicle off the road and put on the emergency flashers. Call local authorities to report the incident. Get insurance information from others involved in the accident and provide the same. Have your teen take pictures of the damage done with his or her cell phone while waiting for police and remind them to avoid talking about what happened or who is at fault with other parties until an officer is present.
Drinking and Driving
Although teenagers can’t legally purchase alcohol, a 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 39% of teens surveyed said they had drunk at least some alcohol in the past thirty days, and 24% said they had ridden in a vehicle with a driver who had been drinking. The fact of the matter is, the chances of your teen encountering underage drinking are high. Teach your teen that driving under the influence is extremely dangerous. Let them know that you would rather pick them up, no matter where they are or what time it is, than have them drive after drinking or get into the vehicle of someone who has been drinking. If you are not available to pick up your child, instruct them to pay for a cab. Tell them to encourage friends not to drive and drink.
A Final Word to Parents
Despite your teen’s reticence to admit that you are a strong influence on your teen’s driving choices, your example and your expectations can play a huge role in keeping your teen safe on the road. When you take the time to talk to teens about important safety and procedural issues, you keep the lines of communication open and lay out consequences for negative behaviors so that your teen can make an informed choice. After all, even though you can still see the small child your teen once was, growing up is a fact of life. Embrace the change and talk with your teen about these key issues while you still have time.
Lauren Hill is a wife, mom and freelance writer who enjoys writing on everyday parenting issues. She is a contributing writer for Woodfins Auto Parts http://www.woodfins.com – a company offering quality used engines, transmissions and every part in between.