6 Rules to Set for Your Teenage Drivers

So you thought it was scary when your kid was a baby, so fragile and helpless? Well, prepare to feel that way again; your teenager is about to start driving. You're right to be freaked out. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S., and teens are four times as likely to crash as older drivers. But setting some ground rules for your new teenage driver will help keep him focused and safe on the road. Your kids may think you're limiting their newfound freedom, but a little less freedom now could mean they'll be alive to enjoy their freedom later. Start with these driving rules, and gradually loosen them as your teen proves he's responsible.

  1. Don't touch your phone:

    Electronics are the top distraction for young drivers, and even with laws about cell phone use in some areas, teens could use an extra parent-enforced rule. Make it clear that unless the car is in park, there should be no texting, taking or making phone calls, Twitter-checking, or selecting or switching music. Set a punishment, such as no driving for a week, if they break the rule, or consider getting an app that prevents texting while driving to avoid the problem altogether.

  2. No driving after dark:

    Even if your child is a great driver, being on the roads at night increases her risk of getting in an accident. Besides the combination of being fatigued and inexperienced herself, your teen is more likely to be sharing the road with other teen drivers, who may be distracted, and older drivers who are more likely to have been drinking once it gets dark. Some states set driving curfews for learners and new drivers, but parents would be smart to set their own limits. Kids should start by driving only during daylight, but you might want to relax the curfew after a few months to 9 or 10 at night so that they get more experience driving in the dark without the high risk after 10 p.m. of being fatigued.

  3. Don't drive your friends around:

    When teenagers first get their license, the first thing they'll probably want to do is get a few friends together and drive anywhere they're free of parental control. But that could be a recipe for disaster. The risk of a 16- or 17-year-old driver dying in a crash is 44% more likely with one teenage passenger in the car than if the driver is alone. It increases significantly as you add more young passengers. Let your child know before he gets his license that this will be a restriction for at least a few months so he won't promise any rides to friends. As he proves he's responsible, start allowing him to drive one, then two to three friends at a time.

  4. Don't eat or drink while driving:

    Feed your teen at home, or you could be tempting him to try an extremely risky behavior: eating while driving. A 2009 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that 80% of accidents and 65% of close calls were caused by distracted drivers who were eating or drinking. And that's of all drivers. Imagine how much harder it is for inexperienced teen drivers to stuff their face while safely maneuvering a car. Make sure your teens understand the danger of this behavior, and tell them that if they need to eat, do it while parked in a parking lot or inside a restaurant.

  5. Learn basic car maintenance:

    If you're buying your teen a new car or just letting her borrow the family vehicle, make it a stipulation that she learns some basic maintenance. She doesn't have to know how to drop a transmission or change her own brake pads, but knowing enough to keep the car in good shape is essential. Understanding what the dashboard lights mean will help her keep the car from running out of oil and other fluids, save it from overheating, or know when to check the tires. Every teen should also know the basics of changing and filling the tires, checking the oil, and installing a new battery. You'll be teaching them responsibility, while protecting the investment you made in the car.

  6. Be courteous:

    This is probably a given, but teenagers often need reminding that they don't own the road and that the way they drive can affect others' moods. Some basic rules for courteous driving include keeping a safe distance, always using a turn signal, allowing plenty of room when changing lanes in front of someone, and waving when someone else does you a favor. But don't be surprised if your kids start to call you out on your impolite driving habits! Practice what you preach.

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