Teaching your teen to drive through example.
Teaching your teen to be a better, safer driver really starts while she is still strapped safely into her car seat, absorbing what you do behind the wheel. If you speed, tailgate, text while driving, don’t bother using the directional signal, or yell at another driver who doesn’t let you merge into the fast lane, you are teaching your toddler, grade-schooler or pre-teen that it’s okay for him, too.
Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death among teens, despite all the safety systems loaded into late model cars. Not surprisingly, the accident and fatality rate is highest during the few months after teens get their licenses.
Lessons learned before teens get behind the wheel
Before you hand over the keys, here are six ways to encourage smarter, safer driving by your teen:
- Keep driving lessons simple. Focus on one or two things at a time, such as accelerating and braking, so your teen learns how the vehicle reacts. That old adage about trying not to break a make-believe egg under the gas pedal and brake still works, a generation after it was used on us by our own parents. Also practice hard, emergency braking, because the first time anybody experiences ABS should not be in an actual emergency. Practice first in an empty parking lot.
- Speak the same language. Get in the habit of saying “correct” when either one of you is behind the wheel. Limit the use of “right” for the opposite of “left” to minimize a potentially dangerous misunderstanding.
- Hands on the wheel. Hands free is not risk free. It’s still a distraction to use voice controls to make a phone call or change the music. “If you aren’t paying attention, you put everybody at risk,” including drivers and passengers of other vehicles, says Kurt Spitzer, a pro driving instructor at the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat, Colorado.
- Safety starts in the driveway. Land Rover Driving School instructor Jim Swett, father of three teens, told me he has taught them to check things like windshield wiper fluid and tire pressure regularly, even if the vehicle has computerized warnings. It’s a good way to remind them that their own actions, including basic maintenance, are the most important safety systems of all.
- Stay involved. Drive with your teen every week or so, even if it’s just a couple of times around the block. That way, says AAA driving safety expert Barbara Ward, “if you notice speeding or erratic driving behavior, you can nip it in the bud.” The AAA has a free contract for responsible teen driving. Read it together and agree on restrictions if the contract is violated.
- Take a driving class together. In addition to fee-based driving schools such as Bridgestone and Land Rover, there are free teen driving programs sponsored by Ford and Toyota, and insurance companies such as Allstate. “Things that resonate for one driver may have been missed by the other,” says Bridgestone’s Spitzer, and talking about what each of you took from the class will make you both better drivers.
And you can save some imaginary eggs, too.