Editorial Note: Forbes may earn a commission on sales made from partner links on this page, but that doesn't affect our editors' opinions or evaluations.
If you’re the parent of a new or soon-to-be teen driver, chances are your anxiety levels have spiked. And for good reason. Teen drivers of this generation arguably have more distractions on the road than their parents’ generation.
While the rules of the road may be the same, the learning curve has changed. Most parents of teen drivers didn’t own smartphones and have to contend with attention-grabbers like playlists, text alerts and social media.
Smartphone distractions only amplify the dangerous mix of bad driving behaviors like speeding and driving while impaired—heightened by inexperience. What is considered a rite of passage in a teen’s life is also one of the most precarious.
If you think that’s overly dramatic, consider this: The leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. is motor vehicle accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC’s most recent data shows that six teens age 16 to 19 die every day in the U.S. due to car crashes. About 300,000 teens go to the emergency room for crash-related injuries.
Those are eye-popping statistics. But if the CDC offers any silver lining, it’s this: Teen motor crashes are preventable and proven strategies can improve safety for teen drivers.
Parents of teen drivers are in the best position to be role models and influence good driving habits. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, this burden may fall solely on parents’ shoulders if driver education courses are not available or you don’t want your teen in a car with someone outside of your family.
If you are teaching your teen to drive, have regular conversations about safe driving. You can create a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement to help set clear expectations and consequences for breaking rules.
Here are tips for parents of teen drivers.
Distracted driving is a widespread problem that affects both adult and teen drivers alike. About 400,000 people were injured in car accidents involving distracted drivers, according to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). About 2,841 people were killed in car crashes involving distracted drivers.
Distracted driving is defined as any activity that diverts your attention from driving, including eating and drinking, talking with passengers, adjusting your infotainment system (like the radio or your GPS), and talking, texting or using apps on your phone.
As a parent, you want to discourage your teen from any risky behavior that takes their eyes off the road, but you can also encourage them to use technology in a way that eliminates the need to handle their phone while driving. For example, many cars are equipped with bluetooth that allows you to use your phone hands-free.
Smartphones also have features which disable drivers from receiving text messages and notifications while driving. Android’s “Driving Mode” connects to your car and sets your phone to “do not disturb” while Apple offers a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” which disables text messages and other notifications.
Encourage your teens to set their navigation routes and pick out their music ahead of time. “Use your phone for good,” says Tricia Morrow, a safety engineer for Chevrolet. “Make that playlist and start it before you drive.”
In the last decade, we’ve seen numerous advancements in safety technology in vehicles, like forward collision alerts and lane assist. But for all the safety innovations, seat belts are still the best way to protect yourself.
Fortunately the overwhelming majority of Americans use seat belts. Almost 91% of drivers use them, according to the NHTSA. Seat belts saved almost 15,000 lives in 2017 alone. But still, too many drivers and passengers are neglecting to use seat belts and paying the price. Of the 37,133 people who died in car crashes in 2017, 47% of them were not wearing seat belts. NHTSA estimates that 2,549 lives could have been saved if they simply buckled up.
It’s crucial to have a conversation with your teen about the importance of wearing a seat belt and the potentially fatal consequences of car accidents.
“We know that teens self-report that they don’t wear seatbelts all the time,” says Morrow. “Seat belts are still the primary restraint in your vehicle and they are still the No. 1 thing you can do to protect yourself in an accident.”
Good teen driving behavior starts with parents being good driver role models. But too many parents are shirking their responsibilities and leading by bad example. And when it comes to using smartphone apps, parents are almost as bad as the kids. Thirty-seven percent of parents use apps while driving compared to 38% of teens, according to a survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance.
Using an app or checking a text might seem harmless, but consider this: Taking your eyes off of the road for five seconds to read a text at 55 mph is like driving the length of a football field while blindfolded.
Set a good example by putting your phone down, even when you’re alone. Need a trick? Drive like you’re on camera.
“When I drive, sometimes I pretend there’s a video camera on me,” says Morrow. “How would I want to be perceived? The rules of the road are really the same for everyone.”
It’s no surprise that a lack of driving experience contributes to teen driving accidents. Even without a lot of miles under their belts, teens tend to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the dangers of the road.
“Teens fall into the trap of inexperience,” says Morrow. “I always tell my daughter, if you do something 10,000 times, you’ll be good at it. You’ve only driven 100 times. You’re not good at it yet.”
Speeding and overconfident driving is a major concern for teen drivers. Speeding was a factor in 32% of fatal crashes with teen drivers, according to the NHTSA. Studies conducted by the Journal of Safety Research show evidence that teens’ speeding increases over time and that risky driving is more than five times higher among inexperienced drivers in their first 18 months of having their driver’s license compared to adults.
The indicators of the highest causes of fatalities, such as seat belt use, speed and distracted driving are the same for both adults and teens. But fatality rates are higher among teens compared to adults. That’s due to inexperience, says Morrow.
You might think you know your car, but how well do you really know it? It’s easy to overlook advancements in car safety features. In fact, we may not be aware we have these features in our car or have them turned off.
For example, the Chevrolet “following distance indicator” can use cameras and radar to display the gap time between you and the vehicle you’re following. This safety feature can be a valuable learning tool to help prevent teen drivers from tailgating. But if the feature isn’t turned on or you don’t know it exists, you won’t get any benefit from it.
“Getting to know our vehicle and explaining it to our teens also highlights many things that we maybe didn’t grow up with. Things like automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert and following distance indicators,” says Morrow. “When you get in the mode of teaching, it helps to understand your subject matter.”
It’s a good idea to find your car’s manual and re-familiarize yourself with your car’s safety features. And don’t think of safety technology as a crutch for a teen driver. Think of it as a learning tool.
“A lot of people have said, ‘Oh, the kids are relying on them,’ but they’re not relying on them,” says Morrow. “They might have gotten into a crash otherwise. Instead, they learned a lesson without wrinkling their fender or injuring themselves.”
When you have decades of experience and countless miles, driving can seem like second nature. But if you’re educating your teen on the rules of the road, it makes sense you understand them yourself.
“It’s been helpful to me to step back to the basics,” says Morrow. “I would encourage people to not only look at their local and state guidelines, but also, NHTSA.gov has a tremendous amount of resources on safe-driving tips and general rules of the road.”
Good teen driving habits start with you. It doesn’t hurt to brush up on your state’s driver handbook.
If you’re in teaching mode, a good way to evaluate your teen’s driving skills is with a report card. That doesn’t mean you sit in the passenger seat with a clipboard and check off a bunch of boxes. Rather, let technology assist you.
There are smartphone apps that can connect to your car’s bluetooth or devices that connect to your car’s OBD-II port that can score driving habits like speeding, harsh braking and smartphone distraction.
Some cars also come equipped with safe driving technology. For example, some models of Chevrolets offer built-in systems that help you coach your teen driver, even when you’re not in the car. In addition to setting speed alerts and radio volume limits, Chevrolet’s Teen Driver Technology also has an in-vehicle report card that gives you information about your teen’s driving and helps identify problems that they can improve upon.
Morrow at Chevrolet jokes that as a mother and safety engineer, she can be a bit critical of her daughter’s driving, but a report card helps dispel any teenage angst. “The data-driven approach really works. It’s not me judging her, it’s the car telling her how she can improve.”
While your teen driver’s safety is always your top concern, let’s be honest. You’re also worried about those car insurance bills. Adding an inexperienced teen driver to your policy can increase your rates anywhere from 20% to 180% depending on your state, according to Trusted Choice, a group of independent insurance agents.
Okay, now that you’ve recovered from the sticker shock, here’s the good news: There are ways you can save.
Over time, as your teen driver gains experience and avoids car accidents and traffic violations, your car insurance rates will go down. It doesn’t happen overnight, but rates generally start to go down at age 25. Keeping accidents off the teen’s record will also give you considerable savings advantage. It pays off (eventually) to preach safe driving habits.
In the immediate future, there may be other ways you can save. One of the best ways is by asking your auto insurance agent about car insurance discounts. Your teen might qualify for a good student discount or a driver training discount.