Saying goodbye to my college daughter last fall was a moment marked with a long hug, a few tears and a dollop of heartache. This semester, she will have a car at college and my anguish will begin when we say our goodbyes and not diminish until we get the text from her with that beautiful 4-letter word, “here.”
Here are tips to help your teen drive safely back to college. Model and notice responsible motor skills
Kids quickly notice discrepancies between what adults say and what we do. It’s no surprise that there is a connection between teen driving habits and what they notice about our own inattention at the wheel (Pamela, 2020, p. 825). How we drive is a predictor of how they will drive.
If we stay off our phones and show patience with other drivers, our kids are more likely to follow suit.
Talk about our own driving decisions in real-time
Safe driving is most effective when parents communicate about what they are doing (Ramirez, 2013, p. 430). Share your thinking process aloud by verbally pointing out when you check your blind spot, pause at an intersection, and notice the unsafe habits of motorists around you. When we do glance at our phones, even for a “split second”, we have a chance to recognize we made a poor choice and talk with our kids about how powerful the ding of a notification can be.
Create a safe driving contract
Using the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, consider creating a written agreement with your child that outlines the rules and expectations you both have for safe driving (Ginsburg, 2009, 1046). Using this contract to set clear, precise expectations of each other is more effective than a parting “Drive safely!” (Peek-Asa et al., 2014, p. 778)
You can find a driving contract example here.
Establish a pre-ignition routine
Proper preparation can prevent distracted driving. We can be distracted by taking off a jacket, checking our phone, searching for the music we want, or typing an address into our map.
We can model the routine, coach our teen drivers through it, and talk about how distracting those things can be once they are on the road. Be goofy and pretend you’re the co-pilot who ensures all systems are go for a smooth ride!
1) Keep Your Cell Phone Off
Multiple studies indicate using a cell phone while driving is the equivalent of driving drunk―that’s even when using a hands-free phone.
NOTE: Your state may prohibit the use of cell phones while driving. An increasing amount of states are creating laws regarding cell phone use and texting. Often, younger drivers face stricter laws.
2) Don’t Text
Research shows texting―on average―causes a loss of focus on the road for 4.6 seconds. You can drive the length of a full football field in that time. A lot can go wrong while you drive the length of a football field without your eyes on the road.
Don’t try the “texting-while-stopped” approach, either, as many states ban texting while behind the wheel. And, when you have your head down, you won’t notice key developments that may occur. Remember, you still need to pay attention to the road when you’re stopped.
3) Turn on Your Headlights
Using your headlights increases your visibility and help other drivers see you, even when you feel like it’s light out.
In the early morning and early evening (dusk), you need to use your lights or other drivers might not see you, which can be disastrous.
4) Obey the Speed Limit
Speeding is a major contributor to fatal teen accidents. That’s especially true when driving on roads with lots of traffic or with which you’re not familiar.
Don’t feel pressured to keep up with traffic if it seems like everyone else is flying by you. Driving a safe speed helps ensure your well-being, and keeps you away from costly traffic tickets that can cause a sharp hike in your auto insurance premiums.
5) Minimize Distractions
It may be tempting to eat, drink, flip around the radio dial, or play music loudly while you’re cruising around town; however, all can cause your mind or vision to wander, even for a few seconds.
As an inexperienced driver, you are more apt to lose control of your car. Distractions can significantly increase the chances that you 1) not notice impending danger or notice it too late and 2) lose the ability to control the vehicle.
6) Drive Solo
Having a single teen passenger in your car can double the risk of causing a car accident. Adding additional teen passengers causes the risk to escalate.
7) Practice Defensive Driving
Always be aware of the traffic ahead, behind, and next to you, and have possible escape routes in mind. Stay at least one car length behind the car in front of you in slower speeds, and maintain a larger buffer zone with faster speeds.
Some car insurance companies will even give you a discount if you take an approved defensive driving course to improve your driving skills.
8) Choose a Safe Car
If possible, drive a safe car with the latest safety equipment (such as anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and air bags), and one with an excellent crash safety record