Is your teen about to get their license and head out on the road alone? As a parent, it can be a nerve-wracking time. Will they check their blind spots, keep their phone put away, and drive at safe speeds? Only time will tell. But you can do more than cross your fingers and hope for the best. Here are four ways to help keep your newly licensed teen safe after you've left the passenger seat.
1. Set Rules and Consequences
Before your teen sets out as an independent driver, have a conversation with them about the rules and expectations that come with driving. For example, you may want to cover:
Your state's Graduated Driver's License (GDL) program rules
Always wearing a seatbelt
Never using their phone while driving
The hours in which they are allowed to drive
Who can ride in the car with them when they're driving
Where they can go
What notice is required when they are going to drive somewhere
Along with the rules, address what will happen if they break a rule. For example, if they use their phone while driving, they may lose their driving privileges for a month. While teens learn the state's rules in driver's ed, you are their ultimate authority figure and have the biggest influence on their future habits and behaviors. If you'd like help, the CDC provides a parent-teen driving agreement that can be a helpful guide.
2. Support Your Teen on an Ongoing Basis
While rules and consequences are important, so is a supportive environment. Researchers have found that authoritative parenting (a high level of rules and monitoring, along with a high level of support) can improve teen driving safety.
For example, when compared to teens of uninvolved parents, one study found that teens of authoritative parents were involved in half as many accidents, were 71% less likely to drive while intoxicated, and were less likely to use a cell phone while driving. Another study found that the frequency of parent-teen communication about safe driving was positively associated with teen attitudes toward safe driving.
So it can be helpful to talk about safe driving on an ongoing basis and lovingly reinforce the rules — emphasizing your concern for their safety over a desire to control them without reason. You may also want to consider showing them teen driving statistics to help them understand the severity of the situation.
3. Use a Safety Monitoring App
Next, consider implementing the use of a safety monitoring app so both you and your teen can monitor their driving performance. Many exist on the market today, such as Life360 and FamiSafe, that offer features such as speed, mileage, location, and phone-use tracking. If your teen does something they're not supposed to, you can often get alerts.
If you're interested in going this route, you can also check if your insurer offers an app. For example, State Farm offers the Drive Safe and Save mobile app which tracks quick acceleration, hard braking, fast cornering, speeding, and distracted driving. If you and/or your teen drive safely, you can earn a discount. But what if your teen isn't exhibiting safe driving habits? State Farm says the program can only result in a discount, not a surcharge.
4. Encourage Continued Education
Lastly, teens learn the basics of driving from driver's education programs but can strengthen their skills by taking additional online training modules. For example, a defensive driving course can help them learn how to take a proactive approach when faced with hazards like inclement weather, reckless drivers, and damaged roads. As a result, it can boost their confidence and reduce the likelihood that they'll be involved in a collision or incident.
You can also arm your teen with the resources, including:
A copy of your signed parent-teen driving agreement
Your state's GDL program laws
Watching a teen drive off alone for the first time can be very scary for a parent, and that fear is not unfounded. But you can lay the groundwork to improve the chances that they will follow the rules. Driving safety should be an ongoing conversation in your household, where your teen feels comfortable sharing their experiences and questions. By providing them with expectations, support, and accountability, you can help them successfully take this next big step toward independence.