Nothing has terrified me more as a parent than teaching my teen to drive. It’s not that she isn’t a capable, smart kid that can be a good driver; it’s because of the behavior I see from other drivers around us. Maybe it’s more common where I live, but I see someone run a red light nearly every day when I’m out running errands.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, car accidents are the leading cause of death for 16 to 19 year olds. Teens are three times as likely to have a fatal crash as people over 20, but most accidents can be prevented entirely. The statistics are scary, but since I can’t keep my kids in a bubble, I’ll focus on the prevention aspect so they can learn to be safe drivers and hopefully stay safe on the road.
I think one of the most important lessons when teaching a teen to drive is defensive driving. Being aware of their surroundings and knowing how to drive defensively may save their life.
Here’s 7 tips to teach your teen to drive safely.
1. Be aware of red light runners. When sitting at a stop light, after their light turns green, teach them that before going, they should first look both ways and at oncoming traffic where someone might be turning left on a red light.
The other day, I drove only a few miles from my house to Walmart. On the way there I saw a red light runner and on the way home I saw another one. The light was clearly red long before they hit the light. They could have easily slowed down but they ran the light instead. Today, the red light runner was someone turning left. He cut off the cars going straight, which had a green light and had already started moving. This driver narrowly missed being hit. Sadly, there was a horrible crash near us last year where a teenager was killed because she went forward on her green light and did not see a car coming the other direction at high speeds running the red light. She was the first car that was stopped and went through the intersection. I cannot emphasize enough to my teenagers to take the time to look and be sure that all cars have stopped.
2. Use caution at stop signs. Interestingly, I don’t see people running stop signs where I live as often as red lights, but it does happen. A friend of mine was severely injured when a truck ran a stop sign and hit her car several years ago. There can also be some confusion at stop signs about who got there first and who goes first. Not everyone follows the rules regarding stop signs and it can feel a little disorganized. Teen drivers should learn to be cautious and wait to be sure others drivers are stopping. If someone seems anxious to go and starts moving into the intersection, let them go even if it’s not their turn. It’s not worth it.
3. Watch for aggressive drivers. Teach them that if someone is tailgating you to pull into another lane and let them pass. If you can’t get over right away, don’t get anxious and go over the speed limit or your comfort level because they are bullying you. Just put on your blinker so the driver behind you knows you are trying to get over and then move over carefully when you can. Also, don’t drive in the left passing lane unless wanting to pass other cars. If someone cuts you off, just let it roll off your back. Don’t let it get you angry or cause you to lose your cool. It’s not worth it.
4. Take your time. Teach them that it’s ok to take the time they need to cross or make left hand turns onto busy streets and highways. There was a terrible fatal accident on a canyon highway near us a couple years ago because a teen turned left and was hit by oncoming traffic at high speed. She did not give herself enough time to safely cross the busy highway and get up to speed. Our teens should learn that it doesn’t matter if someone is behind them acting anxious for them to get out of their way. Let the person wait. Don’t cross or move into traffic unless you feel safe and sure that you have enough time.
5. Be alert and aware of your surroundings. This means putting away your cell phone and other electronic devices. They should learn to not pull them out while driving, even when stopped at red lights. Using a smart phone while driving robs you of 37 percent of the brain power that could otherwise be applied to driving, according to a Carnegie Mellon University study. Distracted driving is an avoidable cause of accidents and even deaths every year.
6. Check for pedestrians waiting at crosswalks. Be aware of pedestrians in the road and waiting at a crosswalk to cross. Slow down and wait. Be especially cautious at right hand turns and look for pedestrians attempting to cross the street. Those crossing the street do not always think to look behind them to see if a car is turning right, especially if there is no light at the intersection. Always give the right-a-way to the pedestrian.
7. Don’t swerve. If an animal or bird crosses your path, don’t swerve to miss it. As sad as it would be to hit a small animal, your life and the potential lives of your passengers and others around you is more important. Swerving to avoid hitting something greatly increases the chance of an accident. Popular Mechanics suggests that if the animal is large (like a deer) or it’s a broken down car in front of you, slow down as much as you can and scan for a safe “exit point” like a grassy area or shoulder.
As you embark on this exciting yet nerve wracking parental journey to teach your teen to drive, I hope it’s a great bonding experience for both of you! Do you have any other suggestions to share on teaching a teach a teen to drive safely? I’d love to hear it in the comments.