Driving fever seems to set in at about age 14 (or earlier!), and it only increases in intensity from that point. And while your teen is counting the days/months/years until they can hit the open road, you might be wishing you could turn back time. Besides the fact that gas costs are through the roof (and hello, higher insurance premiums), your child’s safety, and that of fellow drivers, is your primary concern. We get it; driving is a huge responsibility, and even parents of the most mature teen are going to worry. But preparedness is key, so we’ve put together some tips for preparing your teen to drive — steps beyond drivers’ safety classes that might help put everyone at ease.
Set the very best example possible
We know you know this, but it may bear repeating: Every time you’re behind the wheel, you’re setting an example for your teen. Use safe driving habits and defensive driving techniques, and talk about why you drive the way you do. This is an opportune time to demonstrate how you fully focus on the road, as it makes for an easy segue into a discussion on distracted driving and why texting, drinking, eating, playing with the radio, or otherwise not paying attention are extremely dangerous. Show your teen how important it is to stay calm when driving, too — no matter how road-ragey other drivers may be.
Consider creating a driving contract
If you and your teen have established a contract, everyone is aware of the rules up front — as well as the consequences. Do you want friends in the car with your teen? (If so, how many?) Do you want them driving at night? Explain your expectations and what will happen if the rules are broken. The clearer you are in conveying that driving is a privilege, and what must be done in order to maintain that right, the greater the chance that your teen will take your rules seriously. Another tip: As you put together your teen’s driving contract, be sure to consult the guidelines for provisional operator’s permits so you know the rules for number of people permitted in the vehicle, operating hours, etc. Laws may differ depending on where you live; here’s where to find information for Nebraska and Kansas.
Ban electronic devices
Cell phones are a common part of your teen’s life, and you may feel at times like they think it’s their only life source. So, how do you convince your teen to hang up, stop texting, and just drive? Since cell phones and driving are a dangerous and often fatal combination for everyone, but especially for new and inexperienced teen drivers, you may consider banning electronic devices while your young driver is in motion. Calls and text messages can wait until they’ve arrived. You’ll want to spell everything out in your driving contract (phones off until the car is in park? Pull over to answer a call? What about calling hands-free?) and then use restraint in contacting your child while you know they’re driving, so they don’t have to break your rules.
Get them familiar with the vehicle
Choose a vehicle that’s going to be easy for your teen to change lanes in and see out of, and one that’s safe and in good working order. Make sure your young driver knows how to operate mirrors, knobs, seats, safety systems, and other important features. Help them get in the habit of adjusting everything before they put the vehicle in gear.
Provide opportunity for practice
Take an active role in helping your young driver get as much road time as possible. You’ll want to reinforce and supplement what they’re learning in driver’s education class (or private lessons if you’re going that route). Be sure you’re providing experience with various types of road and traffic conditions, as real-life driving often presents a mixed bag.
Teach vehicle responsibility
Beyond how the gizmos and gadgets work inside the vehicle, your teen should have a basic understanding of the maintenance involved with the vehicle — things such as changing a tire, oil changes, tire rotations, and proper fluid levels. Being able to fill the gas tank goes without saying (paying for that gas is also a real eye opener), and it’s also nice to share insurance increases and costs.
Discuss what to do in an emergency
No one wants to think about getting in an accident, but it’s important to be prepared. Talk about the steps to take in case of an accident, including pulling over somewhere safe, remaining in the car, contacting the police, and exchanging information with the other driver when it’s safe to do so. Also talk about common roadside issues and how to safely proceed. Together, assemble a roadside emergency kit that includes jumper cables, a flashlight (with spare batteries), reflector, and first aid kit.
Continue to assess driver readiness
Keep in mind that at the end of the day, you want to encourage your teenager to make their own sensible decisions based on road rules, traffic conditions, and other important factors — because one day, you won’t be in the passenger seat to tell them exactly what to do. Some teens may not yet be ready for the responsibility of a driver’s license and wheels, so remember that it’s OK to delay obtaining a license (a few months can make all the difference) or to revisit the driving contract, if that’s what it takes to keep your kiddo safe.
Once your teenager has a license and it’s time for them to start driving on their own, it’s natural to be nervous. Revisit these tips as often as necessary, and keep the lines of communication open. You’re both doing great!
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