Teen driving issues are a legitimate cause for concern; motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among U.S. adolescents. But sometimes parental rules can unintentionally set your child up for an unsafe driving situation. For instance, many parents insist on “if your dad and I call or text–you’d better answer!” The problem? New statistics show that more than half of teens report answering calls from their parents while driving to avoid parental trouble. While the desire to obey is great, we parents need to make sure our instructions are clear and safe: no call–including one from us–should be answered while behind the wheel. Your teen driver should wait until pulling over safely or reaching his or her destination to call back.
Sometimes parental rules can unintentionally set your child up for an unsafe driving situation.
We parents sometimes blow it in this department by failing to practice what we preach. Do you answer or initiate calls while driving? Answer texts? Your example behind the wheel is a much greater predictor of what your child’s driving behavior will be than the rules you attempt to set up for them. Set a good example, prioritize safety over convenience, and arrive alive!
Consider these ways you can help your child be safe:
1. Start with a contract.
Make your expectations clear from the very beginning regarding safe driving standards. Be specific about things like when passengers are allowed, etc. Use our Teen Driving Contract to help you create good boundaries for your young driver.
2. Start small.
If you’re unsure about your child’s ability to honor the contract and make good decisions behind the wheel, limit independent driving in the beginning. This may be simple for you as many states now participate in a graduated licensing structure for drivers which limits the freedoms young drivers enjoy. If you feel like your child isn’t ready for the level of responsibility your state is willing to grant him or her, feel free to put your own restrictions in place. As your teen demonstrates good driving judgment, you can increase how frequently and how far he or she is allowed to drive. Check out this guide to the laws state by state for more details.
3. Forecast likely distractions and temptations.
You know your child’s habits, and if his or her phone is always in hand, your rules about phone use in the car will need to be super-specific and enforced. Some drivers even place phones in the back seat or trunk until they reach a destination to eliminate the temptation to pick it up. If the likely problem is loud music or friends who want a ride, be proactive about creating boundaries in those areas.
4. Set a good example.
We can’t stress this enough: your child’s driving behavior will probably look a lot like yours. So if you make a no-phones-while-driving rule and then repeatedly break it yourself, you can expect him to do the same. Walk the walk, mom.
5. When two rules conflict, safety is the tiebreaker.
If you’re one of those parents who expects your child to answer your calls or texts promptly, make sure they know this is the one exception to that rule. In this area and in other areas of life, the safest choice is the better choice.
6. Don’t be afraid to revoke privileges.
Yes, it’s terribly inconvenient. But the one correction your teen driver will understand and heed more than any other is losing the car keys. Love her enough to inconvenience everyone–including yourself–to help her understand the importance of driving safety.
How do you help your teen drivers to be safe on the road?
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.