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Helping Your Teen Become a Better Driver

For parents, few things are as scary as watching your teenager drive off alone in the family car. There is good reason to be frightened. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 16- to 20-year-olds, with about 5,500 fatalities each year. Of those teenagers who die, 63 percent are drivers. These serious injuries and deaths can be prevented by education about driving and practice behind the wheel.

Danger Behind the Wheel


Scott Langenburg, M.D.

The first step to change these frightening statistics is to understand why teenagers are such dangerous drivers. A lot of research points to sheer inexperience as the main reason, with age, failure to use safety belts, distractions, and other factors also playing a role. Most teenagers granted a driver's license, however, simply have not had enough exposure to the complex situations that all drivers encounter. As a result, they often use bad judgment and react inappropriately. It takes time and practice to develop the skills a person needs to be a safe driver.

Protecting Teen Drivers

Parents play a key role in keeping teenagers safe behind the wheel. To help protect teen drivers and everyone else on the road, Scott Langenburg, M.D., a pediatric surgeon at the Children's Hospital of Michigan, encourages parents to do the following:

Be a positive role model behind the wheel. Parents should take a good look within and adjust any bad habits they may have themselves. Parents with poor driving records are more likely to have teenagers who are involved in crashes. Always demonstrate safe driving habits and buckle up.

Driveā€”a lot! Practice, practice, and practice some more. Be sure to give your teen lots of practice in several types of high-stress situations they may encounter when they are driving without you: traffic congestion, icy roads, dark streets, etc. When practicing with your teen, it is important that both of you stay calm and patient and avoid yelling. If you need to, take a break.

Talk about dangers. By taking time to talk to your teenager about the dangers of driving, you ensure that they are aware of the consequences involved with unsafe behavior.

Be strict and enforce rules and punishments. Insist that your teen wear a seat belt at all times. Alert your teen to the dangers of driving with distractions such as drinking, eating, texting and talking on a cell phone. Risky driving behaviors, traffic tickets, and crashes are less common among teenagers whose parents control access to the vehicle and set strict limits. Be firm that teens follow the rules and revoke driving privileges if they don't comply.

Write and sign a parent-teenager driving contract. A contract is a great way to ensure everyone understands expectations and rules.

Make Sure They're Ready

Driving is a huge responsibility. Car crashes do not just affect the driver; they also affect the person in the other car. Keep in mind, there is no rush in getting a driver's license. If you feel that your child is not ready to take to the road on their own, then hold back on the license and continue practicing. Just because they turn the "legal age" to hold a license that does not always mean that they are "old enough."

Learn more by going to www.childrensdmc.org and entering the term "teen drivers" in the search box.


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