As a parent who may have a young driver in your family, you know just how important it is to teach your child why safety is crucial when getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. In fact, teenagers and motor vehicles can often be a dangerous combination. Based on recent statistics, auto accidents are the leading cause of death for young drivers ages 15–20, and 12% of distracted drivers who were involved in fatal car accidents were teenagers between the ages of 15–19. To make sure your newly-licensed driver stays safe while driving, here are some tips from Michigan-based insurance expert Peter Vitale that you’ll want to pass on to them when handing over your car keys.
No Talking on the Phone
You should remind your young driver to turn off their cell phone prior to embarking on their trip to school, work, or to hang out with their friends. Even when using a hands-free phone behind the wheel, studies have shown drivers have reaction times and attention spans that put them on par with the worst drunk drivers on today’s roads. Also, it may be smart to remind your child that many states now have laws in place prohibiting the use of cell phones while behind the wheel, and the penalties are often quite severe for teens charged with such an offense.
Texting is Not Okay
While your teen may know talking on their cell phone is against the law while driving, they may not be aware that texting is also prohibited. When a teen attempts to text while driving, they lose focus on the road for almost five seconds. While that doesn’t sound like much, consider that in those few seconds, their vehicle can cover the length of a football field.
Obey Speed Limits
If your teen wants to stay safe behind the wheel and keep their insurance premiums as low as possible, obeying speed limits is a great way to accomplish both of these goals. While it can be tempting to keep the accelerator to the floor when driving a powerful motor vehicle, this creates a disaster waiting to happen. Remind your teen that they should not feel pressured to keep up with traffic. Instead, they should drive at a pace that is reasonable but still has them feeling secure. Also, remind them that a few expensive traffic tickets along the way will not only take money out of their pocket, but also result in insurance premiums going so high they may not be able to afford car insurance.
Be a Defensive Driver
In sports, offense may be flashy and impressive, but it’s defense that ultimately gets you safely where you want to go when it comes to driving. Peter Vitale recommends impressing upon your young driver the importance of defensive driving, because it may someday save their life. Work with them on defensive driving skills so that they are constantly aware of the traffic around them, look at other drivers to figure out their intent, and remind young drivers to stay at least one car length behind, especially on roads that are slick from rain or snow in winter.
Wear the Seatbelt
While wearing a seatbelt while driving is the law, this is no guarantee your teen will put on their seatbelt once they get behind the wheel. Unfortunately, thousands of teenage drivers die each year due to not wearing seatbelts, with many more dying when they fail to strap on their seatbelt while being a passenger in a vehicle, according to insurance consultant Peter Vitale. In fact, if there is one thing you should insist upon from your teen once they start driving, it is to put on their seatbelt as soon as they sit down inside a vehicle.
Practice Driving in Different Conditions
If you remember back to when you first learned how to drive, you likely recall how scary it was the first time you had to drive on a snow-covered road or in rush-hour traffic. Peter Vitale reports, to make sure your family’s newest driver stays safe, work with them and let them practice driving in different conditions. For example, if you have access to an empty parking lot nearby, let them practice driving there after a snowfall. Also, give them instructions on how to safely maneuver a vehicle that’s in a skid, how to safely swerve to avoid an accident, and other safety tips you hope they’ll never have to use.
When out on the road, a driver never knows what might happen that results in them being stranded. Whether it’s a mechanical breakdown or bad weather conditions, having emergency supplies in a vehicle can make all the difference until help arrives. Therefore, talk to your teen driver about having such supplies with them at all times. For example, a typical emergency supply kit includes a fully-inflated spare tire, a jack that actually works, flashlight, blanket, water and non-perishable food such as granola bars, first-aid kit, and hopefully a fully-charged cell phone.
When a car is not properly maintained, it can become more hazardous than many teenage drivers realize. Because of this, teach your teen some basics about car maintenance, such as keeping tires properly inflated and making sure their tire tread is adequate. Also, help them learn how to inspect and change wiper blades that may be torn, how to check oil and other fluids, and anything else you feel is important.
Avoid Driving When Tired
Although your teen likely thinks they have an unlimited supply of energy, you know better. As a result, stress to your teen the importance of not driving when they are excessively tired. Whether it’s coming home from work late at night or driving to and from college, driving when very tired results in reaction times and responses that are on par with being drunk. This, along with the risk of actually falling asleep while behind the wheel, make it all the more imperative that your teen realize that if they are very tired, it’s fine to pull over and take a quick break to get their second wind.
While headlights need to be on at night or when driving in thick fog, teach your teen that having their vehicle’s headlights on virtually all of the time can make driving much safer for them and other drivers around them. By using headlights frequently, their vehicle becomes much more visible to others, which could help avoid a disastrous accident. Many new vehicles feature automated headlights, taking the guesswork out of this process.
Complete a Driver Safety Course
While you can teach your new driver plenty of things about how to be safe when behind the wheel, investing in a professional driver safety course can pay off as well. For starters, completing a course that is accredited by your state will almost always lead to lower insurance premiums. Also, professional instructors may know a few tips you don’t, and sometimes kids will listen more closely to someone who is not their parent.
Buy a Car That’s Reputable and Safe
Once your teen obtains their driver’s license, their attention will turn to getting their own vehicle. But before letting them go out and purchase a jalopy from one of their friends, do what you can to help them buy a car that is reputable and known for being very safe. For example, since some SUVs are prone to possibly rolling over during the course of sudden turns, it may be better to purchase a smaller vehicle initially to let them get used to driving.
Emphasize Driving Costs
If you want to increase the odds that your teen will be a safe driver, have a talk with them about the costs associated with driving. Since one accident or ticket can send insurance rates skyrocketing, Peter Vitale recommends that parents make sure young drivers understand this upon becoming licensed. Also, it may be a good idea to have your teen pay their own car insurance, or at least contribute to the cost. Once they start seeing how quickly money can disappear from their hands, it may make them think twice before going over the speed limit or trying to talk or text on their cell phone.
While it can be time-consuming and a bit nerve-wracking for you as a parent when your teen gets their driver’s license, it can also be one of the most exciting and rewarding moments in your life and that of your child. By helping them along the way, both of you will benefit.