When your teen gets a driver's license, it's important to set some rules of the road beyond the relevant driving laws. By clearly defining your expectations before you hand over the car keys, you'll reduce the risk of frustrating conflicts, costly crashes, and other problems. What's more, you'll feel more confident about your teen's safety.
Set rules to cover a range of factors, such as seatbelts, passengers, curfews, and dealing with distractions like smartphones and other devices. Try to involve your teen in the process of creating the rules and consequences.
Topics to consider include:
Ban multitasking behind the wheel, whether it's text messaging, making phone calls, or operating a GPS. Give your teen alternatives to these bad habits, like pulling into a parking lot to answer and make calls and checking directions or setting GPS before leaving for an unfamiliar place. And be sure to set a good example in the way you handle distractions while driving.
Many states restrict the number or ages of passengers that teens can have when they first get their license. Learn the rules in your state and consider adding others based on your child's driving experience, temperament, and the driving situations likely to occur.
You might want to start by not letting your teen drive with friends, then loosening the restriction as your teen gains experience and comfort. But remember: the more teen passengers in the car, the greater the crash risk.
Ease teens into driving after dark. While many states' provisional licenses don't require teens to be home until midnight, you might want to set an earlier curfew, then extend it as you see fit. Driving at night is riskier than daytime driving for all drivers, and even more dangerous for new drivers.
Make sure your teen driver understands the consequences of speeding — how it can lead to potentially deadly crashes, costly tickets, points added to a driver’s license, and revoked driving privileges. Consider making your young driver responsible for paying speeding tickets and any insurance rate hikes they cause.
Studies show that teens are the least likely age group to wear seatbelts, so it's important to stress the importance of wearing them. Make buckling up a rule for your teen and all passengers. Nearly every state fines drivers and passengers for not wearing seatbelts, sometimes as much as $200!
Drinking and Driving
Teens should understand that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol — or getting in the car with someone who is — can be a fatal mistake. Encourage teens to call you for a ride — regardless of the time or whether they're somewhere off-limits — and promise to withhold punishment and questions.
Schoolwork and Other Responsibilities
Consider making driving a privilege based on whether your teen keeps good grades or meets other responsibilities, like doing chores.
Teach your teen basic car maintenance that will keep the car safe and prevent breakdowns, such as:
checking the fuel level
maintaining proper tire pressure (check monthly) and visually inspecting tires each time the vehicle is driven
checking fluids (oil, brake, power steering, windshield washer)
oil change every 3,000 miles or as recommended in the owner's manual
keeping mirrors and windows clean (inside and out)
Review tasks like reading a tire gauge and checking oil — first demonstrating, then supervising as your teen does it. Keep a notebook in the glove compartment to keep track of when oils, fluids, and air pressure are checked.
Set ground rules with your teen about which conditions are OK to drive in and which aren't. Explain that if he or she is driving and a strong storm starts, it makes sense to pull off the roadway and wait it out — even if curfew is compromised because of bad weather, safety always comes first.
What Else Should I Know?
Consider putting the rules in writing by creating a Driver Agreement that clearly states the rules and the consequences for not following them. This eliminates gray areas and stresses that you take the rules seriously and your teen should too. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement on their Keys2Drive teen driving website. You can use theirs or make your own.
And from time to time, get in the passenger seat while your teen drives. This will give you a sense of how comfortable he or she is behind the wheel — and how comfortable you are handing over the keys. Creating rules for the road now can help build a foundation for safe driving that your teen will have forever.