Your son or daughter may have your eyes and your talent for sports. They also likely have your driving habits. Studies have shown that teen drivers often model their driving off of their parents.
What We Say Vs. What We Do
What parents do behind the wheel has a greater impact than what they say, according to a study by Toyota and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Researchers surveyed new drivers aged 16-18 and parents of this age group. They found that teens who engage in unsafe driving behaviors, such as cell phone use, often have parents who do the same.
That makes sense because long before your teen started driving, he/she was a passenger in your car. For years, you have been modeling driving habits without realizing it. Therefore, telling your teen not to text when driving – when you do it – can actually suggest that it’s really okay.
Tips for Parents of Teen Drivers
Now that your teen is driving, this is a good time to revisit and possibly revamp your driving habits. Here are seven easy ways that you can set a good example for your young driver.
1. Refresh yourself on the rules of the road.
It’s been a while since you’ve studied for your state driving test. Now might be a good time for a refresh. Pick up your state’s DMV handbook and review the rules. If your teen sees you taking this seriously, he/she will too. Pay special attention to your state’s graduated driver licensing program. States have these laws to ease new drivers into driving with limited hours, limited passengers and other precautions.
2. Put away the phone.
If you’ve ever texted or made a call while driving, you’re not alone. This distracted driving behavior is as common among adults as teens. But cell phone use is as dangerous as driving under the influence. You are just as likely to get into a crash when using a cell phone as when drinking and driving. Teens are frequent texters, and the temptation to do so behind the wheel is great. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health revealed that nearly 40 percent of teens had texted or emailed while driving in the past 30 days. That’s why it’s important to model behavior where you put your cell phone away. Don’t use it at stop signs or red lights. Consider using your phone’s “do not disturb” setting while driving. That will automatically put it out of commission.
3. Put away the food.
It might be common for you to eat or drink behind the wheel. After all, isn’t that what drive-throughs are for? Yet anything that takes your attention away from the road is a distraction that could cause an accident. Instead of eating while driving, pull over into a parking spot. Then you can really enjoy that hot lunch, coffee or treat with your teen.
4. Watch your speed.
It’s tempting to drive faster when you’re running late. You also may speed when you’re tired after a long day and you just want to get home. However, speeding is never safe and often costly—in terms of tickets and wear-and-tear on your tires. Speeding also uses more gas. Make every effort to drive the speed limit with your teen. Set your car to cruise control. Remember why you are modeling this behavior.
5. Talk to your teen about drinking and driving.
The teenage years are filled with experimentation. Your teen may on occasion try alcohol, even if it’s illegal and you have forbidden it. As we know, drinking and driving are a dangerous combination. About one in four teen car crashes involve driving under the influence, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Talk with your teen about their options should they find themselves in a situation where they – or a friend – have been drinking and is about to get in the driver’s seat. Emphasize that it is never okay to drink and drive and that the consequences could be deadly.
6. Make time to drive with your teen.
Your teen has watched you drive for years. Now it is your turn. Make the time to drive with your teen, in all road conditions. Show them that you trust them behind the wheel. Compliment him/her on safe driving behaviors. The more time you spend in the car with them, the more comfortable you (and they) will be when they are driving on their own.
7. Create a written safety agreement.
Sure, you’ve told your teen a hundred times not to text while driving and to be home by 10 pm. But putting those rules in writing makes them official. A written safety agreement shows in black and white exactly what you expect from your teen. Violations of that agreement could result in loss of driving privileges.
Use the elements of your state’s graduated license program as a basis for the safety agreement. This will likely include limiting the number of passengers in the car with your teen and the times that he/she can be on the road. Make sure you include any other family rules such as the curfew for the car being home, and how you wish your teen to check in with you. In doing so, you are setting up your teen for a lifetime of safe driving.
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