As a Virgina personal injury attorney, I have seen the after effects of many terrible car accidents. As the father of twin boys that recently received their licenses, I can’t help but worry every time they get behind the wheel of a car. I know they have both taken the driver’s education class in school, gone through “behind the wheel” training, completed the required amounts of driving during the day, at night, on the highway, and on back roads, but I know this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the things they really need: continued education and experience.
What can parents do to help newly licensed teen drivers?
As parents we must continue to do everything in our power to impress upon teen drivers that they are now participating in something that could have grave effects on themselves or others for the rest of their lives. Your teen still believes they are “bullet proof” and does not truly understand the risks associated with driving. They do not believe their decisions while on the road actually could bring about bad consequences. So – what can we do?
1. Lead By Example
We need to drive so that our teens can model our behavior. That means to make sure we watch our speed; wear our seat belts; do not text or use our phones in an unsafe manner; keep safe following distances; obey traffic laws; don’t drink and drive; and don’t get upset due to other drivers or traffic conditions.
This may be the hardest thing for us parents to do because we are set in our ways – right or wrong. But we must understand that we are teaching our kids that behavior is ok even when we know it really isn’t.
2. Continue To Educate
Every time you ride or drive with your teen, talk about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Inquire into many areas of the trip: Which lane is the best for their purpose? What are they looking for up the road that could be a potential hazard? What kinds of things have they noticed other drivers do that have been dangerous? Based on the current weather, should they be altering their driving behavior? In what way? Why?
I have found that if you are able to talk about anticipating things “coming up” as they travel, then teenage drivers are more prepared when they occur. This method of teaching is a lot more positive and works a lot better than waiting until your teenage driver doesn’t react as you think they should, and then trying to direct or teach during the middle of the chaos. Often the urgency of the situation at that point may cause you to raise your voice in a way that’s likely to just fluster and distract your teenage driver, instead of being the helpful learning experience that you really want.
3. Set Expectations Before Your Teenager Starts To Drive
Decide on your ground rules that you expect your teen driver to follow, and discuss these ground rules in advance. Explain to your teenager that these rules must be followed if your teen plans on using your car.
Consider rules like:
- they must let you know where they are going
- call you upon arrival and departure from any location
- confirm passengers (if any – it is recommended they have as few as possible)
- no using a phone for any reason while driving (if you MUST, then you MUST pull off of the road)
- follow the traffic and speed limit signs
- absolutely no alcohol use when driving
- keep distractions from passengers and/or music at a minimum
- no aggressive or thrill-seeking behavior when behind the wheel
AAA offers a website that provides wonderful information for all new drivers and their parents. It includes a “Parent-Teen Driving Agreement” https://teendriving.aaa.com/VA/. This is an agreement your teen will read and understand and sign BEFORE they drive. They will also understand that the more tasks properly performed means more privileges, but the more rules that are not followed or are violated the more consequences they can expect. Driving for most teens is a luxury and not a necessity, so if they cannot follow your rules, then this privilege should be taken away.
Parents must continue to be involved for the sake of the teen and the public. We must do all we can to keep both safe. Driving is something no one should ever be too relaxed about as bad things can happen in the blink of an eye.
Your teen should know you stayed involved in their driving because you care and because of how dangerous it is. You should emphasize that as maturity creates greater opportunities, those greater opportunities also carry greater responsibilities and greater risk of harm to themselves and others. In driving as in everything else, actions have consequences; in driving, the consequences can be catastrophic and life-changing.