Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). Teen drivers speed, make mistakes, and can be easily distracted, especially if they have friends in the car. Parents can play an important role in helping their teens develop into safe and responsible drivers. In addition to providing supervised driving practice, parents and their teen drivers should have conversations about driving safety.
So, what safety issues should parents talk about with their teens? In honor of National Teen Driver Safety Week, this blog contains some important conversation topics and provides suggestions for how parents can encourage safe-driving practices.
Teen Driver Crash Statistics (CDC, 2022)
- Crash risk is highest in the first year a teen has their license.
- Fatal crashes are more likely to occur at night.
- In 2021, 51% of the teen passenger vehicle drivers who died in crashes were not wearing their seatbelts.
- The likelihood of teen drivers engaging in risky behavior triples when they travel with multiple passengers.
- In 2021, almost one-third (32%) of all teen drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash.
- In 2021, 19% of teen passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes had alcohol in their system.
Talk about Safe Driving with Your Teen
Talking to your teens about safe driving early and often, even before they reach driving age, can help to prevent their chances of being in an accident and could potentially save their lives. You may choose to start the conversation during National Teen Driver Safety Week, but you should consider continuing the conversation regularly (e.g., weekly) throughout the year. Your teen is listening, and your constant reminders about driving risks—and your clear expectations—will get through and make a difference.
Wearing a seat belt in a vehicle is one of the simplest ways for everyone to remain safe. Buckling up is the law, and fastening a seat belt is also one of the easiest and most effective actions an individual can take to reduce their chances of injury or death if they are involved in a car accident. Help your teen understand why seat belts are important and that they must be worn by everyone in the vehicle and on every trip. Make them aware of the consequences of not buckling up, such as getting tickets, losing driving privileges, or sustaining injury, or even death, in the event of a crash. It only takes a few seconds to buckle up, but this small action could save a life.
Your teen’s risk of having a fatal car crash increases with each number of passengers in the vehicle. Passengers can distract an inexperienced teen driver who should be focused on the road and the cars and pedestrians around them. Many states have laws that restrict the number of passengers who can ride in a car that is driven by a teen. Even if the state you live in does not have passenger restrictions, establish rules with your teen about who can ride with them and how many people they can have in their car at one time.
Distracted driving can be deadly. Remind your teen about the dangers of texting, dialing, or using mobile apps while driving. Require your teen to put their phone away and to turn on the “Do Not Disturb” or similar phone features when they are driving. Distracted driving isn’t limited to phone use—other passengers; vehicle, audio, and climate controls; eating; and drinking while driving are all sources of potential dangerous distractions.
Speeding is a safety issue for all drivers, and it can be especially dangerous for a teenage driver who lacks the experience to react to hazards or changing circumstances around their vehicle. Teens who are monitored closely tend to speed less. Set the expectation that your teen will obey the speed limit. They should be particularly aware of their speed during inclement weather (e.g., rain, snow, leaves falling). During these situations, they may need to reduce their speed in order to handle traffic stops or winding roads. Remind your teen to maintain enough space behind the vehicle in front of them to avoid a crash in case of a sudden stop.
Driving While Under the Influence
Consuming alcohol before the age of 21 is illegal, and alcohol and/or marijuana or other substance use and driving never mix—no matter your age. In fact, driving under the influence of any impairing substance, including illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs, could be fatal. It is critical that teen drivers understand that driving impaired can also have legal consequences. They could face strict penalties, fines, or jail time, and they could lose their license if they are caught driving while impaired. Further, remind them that they will face additional consequences at home for breaking the rules they agreed to follow when they started driving.
Set Safe Driving Ground Rules
When your teen begins driving, establish expectations or rules that address common safety risks. Rules for your teen driver may include the following details:
- Do not drive impaired.
- Always wear a seat belt, and make sure your passengers do too.
- Keep your eyes on the road, both hands on the steering wheel, and your mind on the task of driving.
- Follow the posted speed limit.
- Limit the number of passengers in your car.
You may want to make your rules more specific by stating what your teen will not do while driving (e.g., consume alcohol, text, dial or scroll on their phone, eat, drive at night) and you should outline the consequences for breaking the rules, such as a loss of driving privileges. You may also choose to create a parent-teen contract for safe driving and display your contract by the family car keys or near the front door.
Model Safe Driving
Model safe-driving behavior for your children by following good habits, such as using the turn signals or looking left-right-left before pulling out at an intersection, any time you drive them anywhere, even before they begin to drive. Make sure you refrain from grabbing for your cell phone, and buckle your seat belt before starting your car. Obey the speed limit, and keep your eyes on the road. Be consistent with the messages you tell your teen and your own driving behaviors.
Driving is a privilege. If your teen has difficulty following the rules, you may need to suspend their driving privileges and discuss your safety concerns. Safe teen drivers can mean the difference between life and death—for themselves, their passengers, and others on the road.
Parent-Teen Driving Agreement: https://www.cdc.gov/parentsarethekey/agreement/index.html
Safe Driving Pledge: https://thrive.psu.edu/universal-parenting-programs/branch-out/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, November 22). Eight danger zones. https://www.cdc.gov/parentsarethekey/danger/index.html
Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State. (n.d.). Branch out. Thrive modules [Computer-based module]. https://thrive.psu.edu/universal-parenting-programs/branch-out/
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d.). Teen driving. https://www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/teen-driving