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Tips and tools to make your teenager a better, safer driver

The crash rate for drivers 20 years old and younger is double that of the population as a whole, based on Oregon Department of Transportation estimates.

As the parent of a teenager, it’s a terrifying thing to hear. Take advantage of the resources available to help you make your kid a safe driver: here are a few tips and tools.

Put together a detailed list of your driving rules

It’s a great time to have this conversation: October 18-24 is National Teen Driver Safety Week.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has put together a list of the top 5 traffic safety topics to discuss with your teenager.

 5 to Drive:

  1. No alcohol. About a third of 15-to-20-year-old drivers killed in car crashes in 2013 had been drinking. Oregon and Washington have zero-tolerance laws: if a driver under age 21 has consumed any alcohol, he or she is considered to be Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII).
  2. No cell phone use. Distracted driving is incredibly dangerous, and cell phones are a primary distraction.
  3. No driving or riding without a seat belt. More than half of all teenagers killed in crashes weren’t wearing seat belts.
  4. No speeding. In 2013, speeding was a factor in 42% of the motor vehicle crashes that killed 15-to 20-year-old drivers.
  5. No extra passengers. The chances of a teen driver dying in a car crash quadruples when carrying three passengers younger than 21, compared to driving with no teenage passengers.

Just talking about driving safely isn’t enough …

Apps like Life360 can show you when your kid arrives and leaves a location

The NHTSA rules are a good outline, but just talking to your kid about safe driving isn’t enough.

Get technical.

Rule #2: no cell phone use while driving.

Some parents have a hard time enforcing this, because parents themselves are texting or calling kids to find out where they are, or when they are headed home.

Use technology to your advantage. There are dozens of smart phone apps that monitor the phone’s location. Pick one … and don’t text or call your teenager when he or she is driving.

Explain legal liability.

Make it clear that you own the car, and pay for the car insurance … and are legally liable if your teen driver is at fault for a crash that injures or kills someone.

But, since many teenagers don’t really relate to problems that don’t directly affect them, be frank about what can happen to them if they are responsible for a car accident.

“If you get into a car crash …”

  • You will pay a lot more for car insurance, even if no one is seriously hurt.
  • You could face criminal charges, and even jail time.
  • You may have to pay fines or punitive damages.
  • You may have to live with the knowledge that your actions hurt or killed someone.

This may sound harsh, but I have seen what happens when teen drivers cause serious car accidents. It’s incredibly painful and difficult, for not only the victims, but also the driver that caused the crash.

If your teenager is mature enough to drive a car, he or she is mature enough to understand that driving choices can have a terrible effect on someone’s life … and on their own.

Sign a contract.

Driving a car is a huge responsibility. A written agreement underscores the seriousness of the conversations you have with your kid about driving safely.

It also gives you a chance to clearly identify the 5 to Drive rules, and any additional driving rules you’ve outlined.

If the rules are broken, and you have to rescind driving privileges, it’s a little easier to enforce it with a written agreement.

This agreement from the CDC includes a provision to rescind driving privileges. Download the PDF, or use it as a template for your own parent-teen driving contract.

Be the example.

Kids are amazingly adept at spotting hypocrisy. Your rules for your teen driver won’t mean anything unless you follow them, too.

“When parents model and reinforce safe driving habits, they equip their teens with the skills to safely navigate the roadways for life”

– U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

As your teen learns to drive, take some time to review the rules of the road so you can answer any questions with authority, and set a good example behind the wheel.

Correct your own bad habits—going a few miles over the speed limit, rolling through stop signs, checking your messages at stoplights—and be the safe driver you want your teen to emulate.

Next: See Oregon’s (surprisingly effective) distracted driving videos

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