Teens eagerly await the freedom they will have the day they receive their driver’s license, and parents can’t wait to end their run as lead taxi driver. Before this happens, however, parents and their teens need to recognize that with driving comes great responsibilities and great dangers for which many teens are not prepared.

Establish responsibilities

Remember that teens often experiment with authority and may feel invincible, letting their emotions get the best of them. These behaviors do not make the most attentive and cautious drivers. Be up front with your child about the responsibilities of driving before he or she gets behind the wheel:

  • Establish driving rules with your teen from the beginning
  • Enforce those rules at all times
  • Encourage and model for your teen to be a cautious driver and follow all driving safety rules

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “at a minimum, parents should place restrictions on nighttime driving (preferably after 9:00 pm) and limits on the number of teenaged passengers. Initially, the rules should be fairly strict, but they can be relaxed as the teenager becomes older and gains more driving experience.”

Set rules

Families should also have written rules for teen drivers. These need to include at a minimum the following:

  • No teen driver should carry more passengers than allowed by law. If your state doesn’t have a passenger limit law, here is a good guide: there should be no passengers for the first 6 months (other than family), one passenger for the next year, and never more than 3 passengers
  • No cell phone use while driving, including Bluetooth phones, unless the car is stopped and pulled to the side of the road
  • No texting
  • No excessively loud music

Make sure violations of your written rules carry penalties up to and including license suspension. Also, stress to your kids the risk of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Impaired driving is one of the leading causes of death in teens.

Finally, the best way to teach your teens to drive responsibly is to be a great role model. Like everything else, teens learn their behaviors primarily from their parents. Make sure that you are observing all traffic laws and abiding by the rules listed above.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lawrence D'Angelo Lawrence J. D’Angelo, MD, MPH, is the executive director for The Diana L. and Stephen A. Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health and Section Chair for the Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s National. She has worked on numerous publications informing medical practitioners and patients on infectious diseases, eating disorders and other health risks.

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