With school back in session and the weather turning worse, more teens are getting behind the wheel—and putting themselves at risk for accidents. This week is National Teen Driver Safety Week; government agencies and traffic safety educators across the country are using this opportunity to teach teens and their parents how to prevent accidents. If you’re the parent of a teenager who’s learning how to drive, it’s time to talk to them about how to stay safe on the road.
Top 5 Safety Tips for Teens
1. Avoid distractions
It’s a well-known fact that teenagers’ brains are still developing, and their decision-making skills aren’t yet fully developed. To a teenager, checking a Facebook message or sending a quick text while on the road doesn’t seem as dangerous as adults know it to be. Talk to your kids about the importance of keeping their hands and eyes away from their phones while they’re on the road. But cell phones aren’t the only potential distraction in a young driver’s car. Fiddling with the radio, responding to a demanding passenger, and checking GPS directions can all take a driver’s eyes off the road for the few seconds that could make the difference between a near miss and a fatal crash. Tell your teenager that it’s all right to pull over if they feel like they can’t keep their attention on the road.
2. Practice makes perfect
Contrary to popular belief, most accidents involving teenage drivers aren’t caused by intentional recklessness. Because teenagers are inexperienced drivers, they often struggle with skills like judging speed and distance, figuring out how to drive safety in adverse conditions, and responding to other situations that require experience as well as good judgement to navigate safely. The only cure for inexperience is practice. As a parent, you can help your teen by sitting with them as they practice driving in a variety of conditions and situations.
3. Follow the law
In Washington state, teenagers are subject to stricter laws than adults when it comes to certain traffic violations. While an adult driver is considered too drunk to drive with a blood alcohol limit of 0.08, the limit is significantly lower for minors. Teens who are learning how to drive may also need pointers on some of our state’s less intuitive traffic laws, like how to proceed through a roundabout and when it’s legal to pass another car.
4. Buckle up
The teenage brain isn’t just slow to develop decision-making skills. Teens often underestimate the risk of dangerous situations, especially when they believe that they’re in control. Many teenagers lose their lives in survivable accidents because they don’t think they need to buckle up. Talk to your children about the risks of driving without a seatbelt—and consider making them drive a car that sounds a loud, persistent alarm when it detects that the driver’s seatbelt is unbuckled.
5. Be prepared for honesty
As we’ve established, teenagers aren’t always equipped to make perfect choices. The best thing that you as a parent can do is tell your teen that if they’re nervous or uncertain about driving, you’ll be there for them. Even if you don’t want your teen to be using drugs or alcohol at all, tell them that if they’re ever impaired and unable to drive safely, you’ll be there to pick them up. Make a plan for what to do if they’re far from home and the road conditions are too dangerous for an inexperienced driver. Tell them about the steps they should take after an accident, and remind them that staying at the scene and cooperating with police is a much better option than committing a hit-and-run.
Want to know more and teenage drivers and the law?
Davis Law Group, P.S. provides a free downloadable report to parents of teenagers who want to know their legal rights and responsibilities. You can download Teen Drivers & The Law: What Every Parent In Washington State Needs To Know directly from our website.
Davis Law Group also provides this report as a booklet for traffic safety educators to distribute to students and parents. You can request a bulk order of these booklets for free by filling out this form.