When your teen gets behind the wheel of a car for the first time, it’s an exciting moment for them but a nerve-wracking one for you. The statistics can be scary — automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers — but there are plenty of things you can do to help your new driver stay safe. Below are six of them.
Be a good example.
Your teen will pick up on your behavior behind the wheel whether you intend them to or not. Teens who have seen their parents drink and drive are three times more likely to follow in their footsteps than those who haven’t. Even seemingly innocent behaviors, like eating, can be mirrored by your new driver with disastrous results — after all, you have the years of experience to handle some minor distractions, but your teen does not. Setting a consistent example in front of your new driver will help them naturally adopt safe behind-the-wheel habits. Encourage them to have a passenger perform tasks like adjusting the radio and answering the phone, and make sure to follow through on your own advice.
Pick the right car.
The best car for a new driver is a mid-sized vehicle that offers some protection in the event of a crash but is still small enough to be easily maneuvered by your teen. A basic four-door sedan is a good option for most new drivers, and there’s no shame in keeping it simple since the image associated with fancy models can actually encourage reckless driving. Make sure your teen’s car has both good crashworthiness and crash avoidance ratings — pay attention to airbags and potential crumple zones, but also evaluate the anti-lock brakes and vehicle handling that can prevent accidents in the first place.
Set a curfew.
Car crashes are three times more likely to happen at night than during the day, and teen drivers are at a greater risk when driving in the dark than their parents. Most fatalities occur between midnight and 6 AM, influenced by driver fatigue, passenger distractions, and limited visibility. Many states with Graduated Drivers License programs mandate a curfew for new drivers. If yours is one of them, be sure to enforce the rules for your teen — and if your state doesn’t have any nighttime driving regulations, implement some of your own to limit the time your new driver spends behind the wheel after dark.
Teach defensive driving.
It’s true that teens make a lot of mistakes while behind the wheel, but not every accident is the fault of a new driver. The roads are an unpredictable place. It’s important to teach your teen to guard against dangers that are out of their control by practicing a safe following distance and remaining aware of their surroundings even in familiar locations. Warn them to be wary of potentially reckless drivers, wild animals crossing the road, unexpected weather or pavement conditions, and anything else that can come out of left field.
Practice, practice, practice.
Your new driver will be able to handle more and more as they gain experience behind the wheel, so make sure to give them plenty of opportunities to practice in a supervised setting. Nothing teaches like actually getting out there and doing it. Try to let your teen drive you the next time you need to run errands or go out of town. The more they practice with you around, the more confident and safe they’ll be out on their own.
Make sure they’re insured.
At the end of the day, accidents do happen. You can take steps to keep your new driver safe, but it’s important to make sure they’re properly insured in case something does go wrong on the road. If your teen knows you have good insurance, they’re more likely to be honest with you when an accident does occur, even if it’s a minor one. You might even be eligible for a discount if they enroll in a safe driver program.
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