As a parent and safe-driving expert, I know teaching your teen to drive is a stressful time.
And you have good reason to worry; car crashes are a leading cause of teenage deaths in the United States. In fact, the CDC reports that data from a National Household Travel Survey indicated that the crash rate per mile driven is about one and a half times for 16-year-old drivers as it is for 18- to 19-year-old drivers.
This milestone in your teen’s life can be challenging and nerve-racking as a parent, but there are steps you can take to ease your stress and improve your teen’s safety.
Here’s a fairly simple tip: get your teen’s eyes checked! Depending on the state where you reside, there are different requirements for your teen to officially begin driving on the roads, including taking an eye exam.
While we often focus on helping our teen to pass the written and driving portions of their driving test, the vision test is an equally important part of the licensing process. Over 23% of drivers have uncorrected vision problems, which impacts their safety and the safety of other road users and pedestrians.
Proper vision is an integral part of your teen driver’s safety. It’s key to identifying road hazards, reading street signs, and seeing the dashboard. At night, the need for good eyesight is only magnified as lighting is poor, and more complex visual tasks are required.
Even if you think your teen has 20/20 vision, now is the time to set up an appointment to ensure their proper vision before they get behind the wheel. Many eyesight issues can be easily corrected with prescription glasses or contact lenses, so take advantage of this time together to teach your teen safe driving habits, including their physical health.
New teen drivers are still gaining experience behind the wheel, which increases the chance of dangerous situations for the teen and other roadway users around them. This is why it’s important for parents to talk about safe driving habits with their teens as much as possible.
Five ways parents can help their teens stay safe behind the wheel include:
You can positively influence your young driver’s behavior behind the wheel– during the permitting phase, as well as once your teen gets their license. Driving is a big step toward independence, and instilling safe driving habits now will build the foundation your teen will need for a safe driving experience as they enter this new phase of life.
In addition to the driving basics, teaching your teen involves continual discussion. Talk about the risks and responsibilities of driving and the danger of dividing one’s attention between their phone and the road. Did you know that in most states, the Graduated Driver’s License law states that teens under 18 should not use their cell phones at all when driving? (Consider having them sign a new driver contract. Click Here To Download One.
Commentary driving is a great communication tool. Coach your teen to describe their actions, thoughts, and observations out loud as they drive, similar to a sports commentator.
Throughout the learning process, ask them to verbalize what they see around them, including potential risks and any steps they need to take to avoid those risks. Encourage your teen to verbalize an action they plan to make, such as turning, merging, and approaching traffic lights.
Be a safe driver yourself. Your teen is watching. Model seatbelt use, put phones away and on silent, and enforce zero tolerance when it comes to drugs or alcohol.
It’s not enough to say, “Do as I say.” Children imitate their parents’/guardians’ behavior, so your driving should set a good example for your teen to emulate. Be sure that you obey all traffic laws, correct any unsafe driving habits (driving aggressively, rolling through stop signs, accelerating through yellow lights, speeding, etc.), and always wear your seat belt. Remind your teen that buckling up is the law and is also the most effective way to save their life and prevent serious injuries in the event of a crash.
According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of teens 12 to 17 say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put themselves and others in danger, so it’s important to practice what we preach. Even if your teen is using an app to record their required supervised driving time, they should put the phone down while driving and only actively use it when safely pulled over.
Practice driving in a variety of weather conditions and in unfamiliar settings. The more supervised practice they have behind the wheel, the safer teen drivers will be.
Studies show that the risk of a crash diminishes with experience. The more time you can spend driving with your teen, the less likely it will be that they’ll crash when they begin driving alone.
Driving in various circumstances is equally important, along with consistent practice. Don’t try to compress all the driving time in one or two months, and expand the areas where they drive to other than just to and from school or the practice field. Make sure your teen gets exposure to all types of roads and in different conditions: at night; in the rain, fog, and snow; and in heavy and light traffic.
Vision safety and other tips for teaching your teen to drive are available inThe Parent’s Supervised Driving Program—an official state resource available at select DMV licensing centers across the country. As parents, we play a vital role in our teen driver’s safety, and this free program gives parents and guardians a simple, easy-to-follow lesson plan for teaching your teen to drive. Rolling out in 2022 and 2023, the guidebooks will include new content, offering expert guidance for parents on vision care and safety for day and night driving.
Permit and licensing requirements vary by state. Check your local DMV website for your state’s specifics.
Help your teen develop the skills needed to become a safe, responsible driver. Learning doesn’t stop when your teen receives their license. It’s important to continue teaching and building upon the skills they have learned.
A lot of the focus ends up being on the basic skills needed to pass the driving test, but it’s just as important to continue to focus on them being a safe driver. (Also consider ensuring their vehicle is prepared for emergencies. Check out Put These 11 Things in Your Teen’s Car for Peace of Mind.)
Keep ensuring that your teen is thinking intelligently and making the right decisions as a motorist. Be clear with your teen that the training process is ongoing and that you will continue to provide input into their development so that you both stay in the learning/teaching mode.
Even after your teen is licensed, use your time driving with them to instill habits of good judgment, accurate hazard anticipation, and smart decision-making. Remember that crash rates are highest in the first months of licensure. Your role is still vital even after your teen receives his or her license.
Editor’s Note: Safe Roads Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting safer driving through education for drivers of all ages. The Parent’s Supervised Driving Program is designed to improve teen driver safety by providing parents, guardians, and coaches with a methodical approach to teaching the requisite driving skills. The program is produced by J.F. Griffin Publishing, and the multi-platform program is 100% sponsor supported. Zenni Optical has partnered with the program to pioneer an initiative that highlights the importance of safe driving and good vision for teens and their families.
Parenting Teens and Tweens received no compensation for this post.