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5 things every parent of a teen driver should do

By: Cathy Caroll

Every parent knows the mixed feelings of seeing your child grow into a teenager. You're happy and proud that they're becoming more independent and taking on new challenges, but all the while you're hoping you've done everything you could to raise them to be responsible young people. Furthermore, it's common to have some fear about what they'll encounter in the world.

This is never more true when your teenager starts to drive. Mile for mile, teen drivers have crash rates nearly four times those of drivers age 20 and older, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Teenagers' maturity level can lead to speeding and other risky habits, and, as inexperienced drivers, they frequently don't know how to respond to dangerous situations on the road.

Fortunately, you can help make your teen's driving habits safer. Here are five steps you can take that are proven to make a difference:

Be supportive and set rules.

Once your teen receives their learner's permit, be sure to get in the car with them as they practice. You should take this time to offer them guidance, while also setting crucial rules about traveling with passengers and driving at night. State rules vary on night driving and passenger restrictions for teen drivers are surprisingly lax considering the evidence around the hazards, so it's important to adopt your own rules.

When it comes to passengers, consider that the risk of a fatal crash for a teen driver increases dramatically when passengers are along. When a 16- or 17-year-old is driving with just one passenger under 21, the crash-risk increases 44 percent. It doubles with two passengers under 21 and quadruples with three or more passengers under 21.

The risk of a fatal crash decreases 62 percent when someone 35 or older is in the vehicle. Safety advocates recommend teens should have no passengers for the first six months after getting their license, and it's even safer if you can make it to a year.

Rules around night driving can save lives, too. The risk for 16- and 17-year-old drivers to be involved in a fatal car crash triples at night. Again, practice and adult supervision can help teens learn to drive safely after the sun sets.

Be sure your teen's vehicle is safe.

Data shows teenagers often don't drive the safest vehicles. Usually, they're driving older vehicles, typically with fewer key safety features, or small cars, which offer less protection in a crash.

If a new model isn't in your budget, certain used vehicles are recommended for teens.

The IIHS lists the models of affordable, safe used vehicles based on four criteria:

  • Avoid high-horsepower because big engines can tempt drivers to test limits.

  • Choose bigger, heavier vehicles which offer better protection in crashes. Studies also show that teen drivers are less likely to crash these kinds of vehicles.

  • Electronic stability control is a must. This feature helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads—it's a risk-buster comparable to seat belts.

  • Good safety ratings in IIHS tests and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Consider an app or monitoring device.

Multiple phone apps or in-vehicle devices can monitor driving and help you feel more at ease when it comes to your teen's time on the road. They also provide feedback that can help teens improve their driving. Some apps, such as EverDrive, which is free, let you compete with friends and family for the best driving score, tapping into the competitiveness of popular online gaming.

You can offer incentives such as gift cards for great scores, which are based on driving at or near speed limits and avoiding hard braking, fast acceleration, taking corners quickly and using the phone while driving. Explain to your teen that you trust them—you're letting them drive after all!—but this is a way to relieve your worry.

Draft a parent-teen driving contract.

Major health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend jointly creating a parent-teen driving agreement. It puts your family's rules of the road in writing to clearly set expectations and limits. Post it on the fridge and update it as your teen gains experience and more driving privileges.

These organizations make it easy with sample agreementsthat you can download. They include a list of statements such as: “I drive only when I am alcohol and drug free," "I will be a passenger only with drivers who are alcohol and drug free" and "I drive only when I have permission to use the car and I will not let anyone else drive the car unless I have permission."

Create trust and openness.

This is a crucial time to create an environment of mutual trust. It's an opportunity to let your parenting evolve through listening and being responsive to your child. Fortunately, experts such as those at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia offer a wealth of resources for parents, including 54 short video tutorials, a goal guide, and a logging and rating tool to keep your parent-supervised driving lessons on track.

Simply put, teens are safer when you're involved in guiding their driving habits. The datashows that when you do, they use seat belts nearly twice as often and are half as likely to speed or be in a crash. They're also 71 percent less likely to drink and drive, and are less likely to text while driving.

Being an involved parent can take the stress out of this coming-of-age moment. Remember, even though teens strive to be independent, they thrive when they know you're paying attention, creating rules and offering support.

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