1. It's never too early to start talking.
Now's the best time to start talking openly about the risks and responsibilities of driving. Because car accidents are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens (CDC 2006), talking with your teen about the risks of driving is literally a matter of life and death.
Set aside some time each week to share your and your teen's concerns, and continue this dialogue before, during, and after the licensing process.
2. Set the ground rules with a parent-teen contract.
A parent-teen driving contract sets the rules, restrictions, rewards, and consequences for your teen down in writing. It establishes driving as a privilege and is something concrete to which both you and your teen can refer.
Remember, consequences mean nothing if they're not enforced, and if your teen does a good job, encourage and reward them with additional liberties.
3. Anticipate peer pressure.
Teens tend to take more driving risks when driving with other teens. When your teen is in the car with another teen driver, make sure they know it's okay to say something during an uncomfortable or risky situation.
Go over what to say and practice so your teen speaks up in dangerous driving situations.
4. No teen passengers at night.
A teen driver's chance of crashing increases with each additional teen passenger. In addition, teen crash rates peak dramatically at night. Studies have noted that risk-taking behavior tends to increase with other teens in the car and that teen passengers are a dangerous distraction.
Make sure you know who your teen is driving with at all times and ensure your teen's safety by not allowing teen passengers at night.
5. Practice what you preach.
Your teen has probably been watching you drive for as long as he or she can remember. Research has found that parents' driving behavior directly influences their teens' driving actions. Poor parent drivers are more likely to have teens who are involved in crashes and receive traffic tickets. On the other hand, your teen is more likely to wear a seat belt and be a courteous driver if he or she sees you doing so.
6. Choose a good drivers ed program.
Many states require teens to take state-approved drivers education. Learning about driving from a professional course ensures your teen learns the essentials of car management, safe driving attitudes, and the current rules of the road. It's essential for parents to find a drivers ed course with current information and quality lesson plans.
7. Schedule practice driving sessions.
Many states have passed graduated drivers licensing laws requiring teens to take approved drivers education, then earn their learners permit and practice driving under supervision, all before getting their drivers license.
The great news is that the most stringent of these GDL laws have proven successful in decreasing the number of teen driving fatalities.
So, in addition to choosing a quality drivers ed class, schedule time for supervised driving sessions with your teen. This will enhance your teen's learning experience, reinforce proper driving techniques and skills, and provide time for constructive feedback.
8. Get rid of distractions.
Cell phones and text messaging are hazardous distractions for teen drivers. Many states have recently banned cell phone use for teen drivers in hopes of preventing serious crashes. If your state hasn't passed such a law, make it a rule in your own driving practices.
9. Make smart vehicle choices.
Because your teen is at much higher risk for an accident than anyone else in your family, he or she should drive the safest family vehicle. Pay attention to size (bigger cars do better in crashes), vehicle type (sedans are generally the safest type of car), and safety technology (air bags, stability control systems, and anti-lock brakes).
10. Have a plan in case of an accident.
Will your teen know what to do in case of an accident? Go over exactly what your teen should do in case of a crash, even act it out. This solidifies the steps in your teen's mind so that if things do go wrong, they are handled correctly. Lastly, print out a set of instructions and emergency phone numbers to keep in the car at all times.