By Alex Perdikis
Driving is a rite of passage for millions of teens. When they get their license, it feels like the first step toward adult freedom, but for their parents, it can be a source of endless worry.
There’s a good reason to be concerned. Statistics show that teens are much more likely than other age groups to be involved in road accidents. But what can parents do to make sure that their children are as proficient as possible when they finally get behind the wheel?
Set the Right Example From the Start
Studies show that teens actually do listen to their parents when they dispense driving advice. In fact, at least one study found that parental encouragement is even more influential than advice from police officers in getting teens to follow safe driving practices.
This means that parents have a special role to play in transmitting knowledge about how to drive safely from generation to generation. Always drive safely yourself and never, ever, consider drinking and driving. There’s plenty of reasons not to, but one of the most powerful is that teens are much more likely to drink and drive themselves if one or more of their parents does the same.
As your children grow, keep telling them the right way to drive. Start educating them well before they can apply for their license. That way, they will have a store of knowledge ready to use when they get their first car.
Set Clear, Realistic Rules
Teens expect their parents to set rules about when they can drive, who can be in the car and where they can go, so don’t be afraid to lay down the law. Set a curfew for nights out and try to make sure there is a maximum of two people in the car at any one time.
However, it’s really important to be crystal clear about these rules. Don’t just state them once and assume that your child has internalized them. Researchers have found that when parents placed limits on using cell phones while driving, 13 percent of teen drivers report that these limits didn’t exist.
They weren’t lying. They just hadn’t taken this crucial information in and acted upon it. Make sure your child knows exactly where they stand.
Be Wary of Phoning Your Child to Call Them Back Home
When kids miss a curfew, parents start to worry. There’s nothing wrong with that, but think twice before you phone them to demand that they return. Cell phone use is one of the major factors in road accidents involving teens and if you call them late at night the dangers are multiplied.
Your child will probably know they are late and could be rushing home. They might not have much experience driving in the dark either, so don’t put them under pressure or distract them. It’s actually safer to enforce a zero cell phone calls policy than to pressure kids to take your calls.
Make Sure Your Child’s Car is Safe
Many parents are happy to pass on an old vehicle or to buy a second-hand model for their child to drive. While this is totally understandable from an economic perspective, it can pose additional safety risks that you need to be aware of.
A shockingly high proportion of accidents involving teens also involve cars that are over 10 years old. Older cars are more likely to have hidden defects that inexperienced drivers won’t necessarily be able to cope with. They are also prone to completely fail, placing everyone in them at risk.
If you want your child to be completely, safe, head to an auto dealership and find an affordable model with a good safety rating.
Trust Your Child, But Stay Vigilant
In the end, your child is their own person. The way they drive is mainly down to their character and ability. However, as a parent, you can shape both of these things as your child develops.
After they start to drive, reinforce your ground rules and stay vigilant. You can tell if any dents have appeared on the car, and when traveling with your child, you can assess their ability. Some young people are passed as fit drivers but struggle on real roads. If this applies to your child, be firm and make them take remedial lessons.
But if your child can drive and shows that they have taken your advice on board, try to relax. Talk to them about how their driving is going and make a point of riding with them regularly. Don’t overprotect or pressurize them. If you’ve done the groundwork, they will be as safe as anyone on the roads.