4. Driving Safety

Why Parents Are So Important in Teen Driver Safety

Crash risk is low during the learner phase when all teen driving is supervised. Crash risk quickly increases for all teens when they move on to unsupervised driving. The first months of driving independently (a Level 2 license) are the most dangerous for every new driver.

How Parents Help Teens Drive Safely

During the Learner phase:

  • Supervise teen’s practice driving and provide important coaching and instruction

During the Level 2 license (independent driving):

  • Use a parent-teen driving agreement to set privileges that give teens experience in less risky driving conditions
  • Continue to monitor their teen’s unsupervised driving, including the conditions they drive in and how they are driving
  • Make opportunities to ride with their teens to continue giving them supervised practice in riskier conditions
  • Frequently emphasize that their teens follow all traffic laws and the terms of their driving agreement
  • Evaluate their teen’s driving and adjust their teen’s driving privileges as they gain more experience
4. Driving Safety

Teen Passengers: What Parents Need to Know

Crash risks are nearly double with one passenger and increase even more with each additional passenger. This is true for all teens, even those who are responsible and trustworthy.

Recommendation for Parents:

Initially, limit your teen to NO teen passengers, and gradually increase passenger privileges as your teen gains more driving experience.

4. Driving Safety

Sample Driving Rules Teens Must Follow

There are some rules that your ​teen must follow at all times, regardless of the conditions. Here are some common rules to get you started.

Teen Driver Will:

  • Never play around with passengers, talk on a cell phone, mess with the radio or do anything else distracting
  • Always call home if for any reason it is not safe to drive or ride with someone else
  • Always call home if going to be late
  • Always wear a safety belt and require all passengers to wear safety belts
  • Always obey traffic laws
  • Never speed, tailgate, or cut off others
  • Never drive after taking any drugs or alcohol or ride with a driver who has taken any drugs or alcohol
  • Always tell parent/guardian where going and with whom

Parent Will:

  • Provide safe ride home when asked (no questions at that time)
  • Consider necessary exceptions to the driving privileges
  • Apply rules fairly and consistently
  • Point out and discuss safe and dangerous driving situations and practices
  • Be a good role model behind the wheel
4. Driving Safety

Parent-Teen Driving Agreement

I, _______________________ , will drive carefully and cautiously and will be courteous to other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians at all times.

I Promise:

I promise that I will obey all the rules of the road.

Safety Check Always wear a seat belt and make all my passengers buckle up.

Safety Check  Obey all traffic lights, stop signs, other street signs, and road markings.

Safety Check Stay within the speed limit and drive safely.

Safety Check Never use the car to race or to try to impress others.

Safety Check Never give rides to hitchhikers.

I promise that I will make sure I can stay focused on driving.

Safety Check Never text while driving (writing, reading or sending messages)

Safety Check Never talk on the cell phone—including handsfree devices or speakerphone—while driving.

Safety Check Drive with both hands on the wheel.

Safety Check Never eat or drink while driving.

Safety Check Drive only when I am alert and in emotional control.

Safety Check Call my parents for a ride home if I am impaired in any way that interferes with my ability to drive safely, or if my driver is impaired in any way.

Safety Check Never use headphones or earbuds to listen to music while I drive.

I promise that I will respect laws about drugs and alcohol.

Safety Check Drive only when I am alcohol and drug free.

Safety Check Never allow any alcohol or illegal drugs in the car.

Safety Check Be a passenger only with drivers who are alcohol and drug free.

I promise that I will be a responsible driver.

Safety Check Drive only when I have permission to use the car and I will not let anyone else drive the car unless I have permission.

Safety Check Drive someone else’s car only if I have parental permission.

Safety Check Pay for all traffic citations or parking tickets.

Safety Check Complete my family responsibilities and maintain good grades at school as listed here: __________________________________________________________________

Safety Check Contribute to the costs of gasoline, maintenance, and insurance as listed here: ________________________________________________________________________________


I agree to the following restrictions, but understand that these restrictions will be modified by my parents as I get more driving experience and demonstrate that I am a responsible driver.

Restrictions - Parent Teen Driving AgreementFor the next _____ months, I will not drive after ________ pm.

Restrictions - Parent Teen Driving AgreementFor the next _____ months, I will not transport more than _______ teen passengers (unless I am supervised by a responsible adult).

Restrictions - Parent Teen Driving AgreementFor the next _____ months, I won’t adjust the stereo, electronic devices, or air conditioning/heater while the car is moving.

Restrictions - Parent Teen Driving AgreementFor the next _____ months, I will not drive in bad weather.

Restrictions - Parent Teen Driving AgreementI understand that I am not permitted to drive to off-limit locations or on roads and highways as listed here: __________________________________________________________________________________

Restrictions - Parent Teen Driving AgreementAdditional restrictions: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Penalties for Agreement Violations:

No Driving Penalty - Parent Teen Driving AgreementDrove while texting (composed, read or sent message or email with phone).​


No Driving Penalty - Parent Teen Driving AgreementDrove while talking on the cell phone (including handsfree or speakerphone).


No Driving Penalty - Parent Teen Driving AgreementDrove after drinking alcohol or using drugs.


No Driving Penalty - Parent Teen Driving AgreementGot ticket for speeding or moving violation.


No Driving Penalty - Parent Teen Driving AgreementDrove after night driving curfew.


No Driving Penalty - Parent Teen Driving AgreementDrove too many passengers.


No Driving Penalty - Parent Teen Driving AgreementBroke promise about seat belts (self and others).


No Driving Penalty - Parent Teen Driving AgreementDrove on a road or to an area that is off limits.



Safety Check​Driver Pledge
I agree to follow all the rules and restrictions in this agreement. I understand that my parents will impose penalties, including removal of my driving privileges, if I violate the agreement. I also understand that my parents will allow me greater driving privileges as I become more experienced and as I demonstrate that I am always a safe and responsible driver.
Safety CheckParent Promise
I also agree to drive safely and to be an excellent role model.
​Parent (or guardian):____________________________________________________​Date:___________________________
​Parent (or guardian): ____________________________________________________   ​Date:
4. Driving Safety

Nighttime Driving: Dangerous for Teens

​The most severe teen crashes occur at night. Night driving is more dangerous because of limited visibility, fatigue, and drinking drivers on the road.

With a Level 2 License, teens cannot drive from midnight to 5 a.m. However, many serious teen driver crashes occur between 9 p.m. and midnight.

Recommendation for Parents:

Set an early evening restriction for your teen’s unsupervised driving – sundown during the first months with a license and gradually later as your teen gains more driving experience.

4. Driving Safety

Myths vs Facts about Teen Drivers

There is often confusion about the best steps to keep teen drivers safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) seeks to clear up some of this confusion among teens and their parents about teen driving safety.

Responsible Teen Myth

  • Myth: My teen is responsible and would not drive dangerously, so is not at risk.
  • Fact: All teen drivers are at higher risk because they lack driving experience and judgment that only come with time and driving.

Experienced Driver Myth

  • Myth: My teen had plenty of practice driving during driver education and the 50 hours of required practice so is not at risk.
  • Fact: Driver education and practice driving are only the beginning of learning to drive – becoming a safe driver, just like any skill takes time, practice and experience.

Driving with a Friend Myth

  • Myth: It would be safer if my teen had a friend in the car, in case something happens.
  • Fact: Crash risks are nearly double with one passenger and increase even more with each additional passenger. Even “responsible” friends in the car can be distracting to a teen driver.

Licensing Laws Myth

  • Myth: The licensing requirements and driving laws for teens (also known as the GDL program) are sufficient to protect teen drivers.
  • Fact: The GDL program is good, but is just a MINIMUM. Effective parent-imposed restrictions that go beyond the laws, increase teen safety.

Driving with Siblings Myth

  • Myth: Sibling passengers are safer than other young passengers.
  • Fact: All young passengers are potentially distracting and at risk with a new driver – siblings are not safer.

Car Ownership Myth

  • Myth: By having a car, my teen will learn to take responsibility.
  • Fact: Teens with their own vehicles are at greater risk because they drive more and have fewer restrictions placed on them.

Other Parents Myth

  • Myth: Other parents do not set limits on their teens’ driving.
  • Fact: Nearly all parents DO set limits, and teens appreciate knowing exactly what is expected of them. The stronger the limits, the better the safety outcomes.
4. Driving Safety

Graduated Driver Licensing Laws: Information for Parents

​Graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws have been proven to prevent teen driver crashes. Research shows that most teen crashes involve “rookie” mistakes. Graduated driver licensing involves a 3-phase strategy to introduce driving privileges to new drivers while they gain experience.

  • The first phase (learner) allows teens the opportunity to gain experience while being closely supervised by an adult.
  • The second phase (probationary/intermediate) gives a new driver the opportunity to drive alone but with certain restrictions designed to limit exposure to high-risk conditions.
  • The third phase (full licensure) allows teens to drive alone without restrictions.

Graduated Driver Licensing Has 4 Key Objectives:

  1. To expand the learning process. It provides new drivers with varied and supervised practice to gain experience. It has a holding period between the time a teen gets a permit and can take a licensing exam.
  2. Minimize crash risk exposure by requiring new drivers to gain experience in lower-risk conditions (daytime driving, without peer passengers, etc.) before driving in higher-risk conditions.
  3. Improve driving skills by encouraging new drivers to practice while being supervised by a competent adult.
  4. Increase motivation for safe-driving behaviors by acknowledging safe behaviors and reducing privileges for reckless or unsafe behaviors.

Graduated driver licensing laws vary by state. Parents must first be reminded that states set minimum requirements, and they can hold their teens at least to the highest recommended standards. These include the following:

  • Unless it is necessary for your rural community and farming, do not get a learner’s permit until 16 at the earliest.
  • Offer at least 50 hours of adult-supervised driving practice with a minimum of 10 hours of nighttime driving (more is better).
  • Allow at least 6 months of practice time from the time your teen gets a learner’s permit to the time he can go for a license.
  • No cell phone use (or texting!!) in the car unless it is parked.
  • No teen passengers for at least the first 6 months of driving after the license. No more than one teen passenger for at least the second 6 months of driving.
  • No unsupervised driving between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am.
  • Continue with supervision and exposing your teen to new and varied driving conditions of increasing complexity even after licensure.

Parents: The Intervention to Save Teens’ Lives

Although GDL laws are legislated by the states, it is parents who practically implement them. Parents’ model seat belt use and can set the rules around substance use, peer passengers, and cell phone use. They are in a pivotal position to make a difference by taking deliberate steps to ensure teens gradually and systematically gain needed experience both before and after licensing. We know that being an involved parent who sets reasonable rules and provides appropriate supervision works. In fact, teens who said their parents provided them with a mix of warmth, support, and monitoring around driving—that desirable balanced (authoritative) style of parenting—were less than half as likely to be in crashes than teens whose parents were less involved. They were also far more likely to wear seat belts, not drive while intoxicated, and forego use of cell phones while driving.

A first step to prepare parents to fill their role is to guide them to be the kind of authoritative parents who can effectively monitor their children. The key here is to notice and be responsive to their teen’s increasing skill level and displays of responsibility, while setting firm rules around safety. In order for teens to adhere to parents’ monitoring and boundaries, it is critical that teens understand that the rules are in place for safety, not as a means to control them.

4. Driving Safety

Drowsy Teen Drivers

Irregular sleep habits combined with inexperience behind the wheel too often are lethal for teenaged drivers and others on the roads.

Sleepiness is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents among drivers aged 16 to 29 years!

Research shows that compared with sleeping 8 or more hours per night, sleeping 6 to 7 hours is associated with a 1.8 times higher risk for involvement in a sleep-related auto accident, compared with a non–sleep-related crash. The American Medical Association (AMA )has encouraged measures to increase drivers’ awareness of the dangers of driving when fatigued and has called for studies into ways of preventing such tragedies.

Drivers Education Curriculum

Sleep experts recommend that driver education courses include specific warnings about drowsy driving. It is important to highlight this and ensure safety.

One prominent researcher put it this way:
Drowsiness, that feeling when the eyelids are trying to close and we cannot seem to keep them open, is the last step before we fall asleep, not the first. If at this moment we let sleep come, it will arrive instantly. When driving a car, or in any hazardous situation, the first wave of drowsiness should be a dramatic warning. Get out of harm’s way instantly! Drowsiness is a red alert!

4. Driving Safety

Driver’s Edge

Cars and kids have been a potentially deadly duo for decades. Automobile crashes continue to claim the lives of 5,500 teenagers a year, making motor vehicle crashes the leading cause of death for 16- to 20-year-olds. Despite the fact that teenage drivers account for only 6 percent of the driving public, they are involved in a staggering 14 percent of all fatal car crashes. Two-thirds of the teenagers killed are male. Those numbers have also remained remarkably stable, even allowing for population increases, and are likely to remain so. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t steps that parents, schools, and government agencies can and should take to help keep teen drivers safe.

Peer Pressures, Cultural Messages

Perhaps chief among the reasons for the high rate of crashes involving teenagers is the nature of teenage psychology and culture.

Teenagers are passing through a time of rapid change, a process accompanied by plenty of turmoil and lane changes on a variety of fronts — physiological, hormonal, emotional, social, and cultural. It is a time of passage, and the chief rite of passage for American teens remains the driver’s license.

At just that moment — the 16th birthday, as a rule — the challenges, dilemmas, temptations, and distractions of becoming an adult become most intense. And that’s when we place our children behind the wheel of a powerful machine capable of moving at high speeds. Driving an automobile is a skill requiring total focus and constant close attention, snap decision-making, and split-second reactions.

Temptations and risks are also part of the adolescent experience. The new driver takes the wheel at just that time when peer pressure to experiment with alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs becomes especially intense. Making matters worse, the automobile provides the teenager with the means to “get away” and abuse substances in “private.”

Additionally, our entertainment media — TV, movies, and an abundance of video games — actually celebrate reckless driving, setting an example that’s all too tempting for teens to emulate.

Hormones and Distractions

The role of the teen brain’s physiological development cannot be underestimated. While the findings are thus far inconclusive, some scientists argue that the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain responsible for decision-making — doesn’t fully develop until we reach our 20s. If this is true, we may be placing our children in decision-intensive situations before their brains are fully equipped for those decisions.

All of those factors face a completely inexperienced driver. Not surprisingly, younger teens are at greater risk of causing crashes than older. A Canadian study found that the highest rate of teenage car crashes occurs within the fi rst month of licensed driving. Sixteen-year-old drivers cause 35 crashes per million miles driven, a rate almost twice that of 18-year-olds, who cause 20 over the same distance. For the general driving population, the rate is an average of four crashes per million miles of driving.

The paradox of putting a teenager behind the wheel of an automobile is nothing new. It wasn’t even new when most of our parents were teenage drivers, for that matter. Nor is all of the turmoil, uncertainty, experimentation, and risk-taking inherent in being a teenager. It’s always been a volatile combination. But there are a variety of factors that are new and widespread among today’s teens, and which further raise the risks of the car/kid combination turning tragic.

Those factors include a range of electronic technologies. Gone are the days when the in-dash radio was the only electronic device to be found in a car. Cell phones and pagers, iPods and other music players, GPS devices, and even DVD players are among the variety of devices that turn our kids and their cars into mobile media centers. These devices demand attention and distract from the demanding task at hand. Electronics add to the longstanding appeal of the motor vehicle as a “party place.”

The Parent’s Role

What’s a concerned parent — and society — to do? Several things, as it turns out.

  • Know your child. Be sure your child knows what you expect of her or him behind the wheel. In part, this means setting a good example with your own responsible driving. Don’t talk on the cell phone, eat, or drink when you’re behind the wheel, and be sure your children understand that you expect the same of them.
  • Set strict rules and enforce them. Your teenage driver should know:
    • Seat belts are required. Some studies show that barely 60 percent of teens wear safety belts.
    • Where and when she is allowed to drive. Nighttime driving is extremely dangerous and should be limited.
    • How many passengers are allowed. The fewer, the better for both limiting distractions and the temptation to show off in front of one’s friends.
    • Phones and other devices, as well as eating and drinking, are not allowed while driving.
    • Alcohol and drugs are absolutely prohibited (and not just behind the wheel!)
    • Stay within the speed limit and obey all traffic signals.
  • Consider creating a written contract with your new driver. The contract should spell out your family’s rules and regulations governing automobile use and operation. It should also contain appropriate and rigorously enforced penalties for even minor violations.
  • Practice with your teen in a safe location. Don’t place all of the responsibility for driving instruction on the driver-training program. Most states’ driver training courses offer around 30 hours of classroom learning. Much of that time is taken up with videos, with barely a fifth that much used for behind-the-wheel training. Parents should do a lot of hands-on teaching to reinforce what their teens are learning in class.
  • Teach responsible driving with all motor vehicles. The laws in most states allows children younger than teens to operate ATVs, mini-bikes, and other off-road vehicles, but it is best to wait until your child has a driver’s license to allow him to operate any motorized vehicles. When he is ready, be sure he operates them responsibly, including wearing appropriate safety gear.

Placing your child behind the wheel of a motor vehicle is one of the largest steps a parent can take. It’s important that you take the step with your child, helping to ensure that when they drive away, they are equipped to do so safely and return home the same way.

4. Driving Safety

Car Safety Technology: Designed to Keep Teen Drivers Safe

backup camera

When it comes to driving, teens and technology have a dangerous track record.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) safe driving policy, teens make up 7% of drivers involved in fatal crashes but 13% of those distracted by cell phones at the time.

The car safety technologies―listed in this article―are available in more and more cars and are helping keep young drivers safer.

Built-in Car Safety Technology:

Many newer-model vehicles have built-in driver assistance safety features available, including:

  • Electronic stability control (ESC). When a vehicle begins skidding on curvy or slippery roads, this computerized technology automatically applies the brakes to help drivers regain control of the steering. This technology is widely considered the most important vehicle safety advance since the introduction of seat belts and cuts the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash by 50%. ESC has been required in most vehicles since 2012. Have an earlier model?
  • Rear vision cameras. As of May 1, 2018, all but the heaviest new vehicles sold in the United States must have rear vision cameras to help drivers back up safely. The law came about after pediatrician Greg Gulbransen, whose son died after a vehicle backed over him, helped promote awareness about the dangerous blind spot directly behind most vehicles.
  • Automatic braking. These systems use lasers, radar, or even video to gauge if the speed of the vehicle is greater than the speed of objects in front of it. If there’s a big speed difference, signaling a potential crash, the system automatically slows or stops the vehicle.
  • Blind spot threat detection. This technology alerts drivers when vehicles are near—approaching in the next lane, for example—but not yet visible, making lane changes safer.
  • Lane-maintenance alerts. Using video, laser or infrared sensors, a lane departure warning system alerts the driver if the vehicle drifts over the lane mark.
  • Teen-specific driver safety technology. Automakers may soon offer built-in advanced driver assistance technology that can be tailored to new drivers. Some vehicles already have smart key fobs and other features that limit speed and block certain electronic distractions. Also, some insurance companies provide families with in-vehicle monitoring and feedback devices for new teen drivers.

Parental Control Safe Driving Apps:

In addition to in-car technology, a variety of smart phone apps are now available to help parents monitor their teen’s driving. Some alert parents if their teen drives faster than a pre-set limit, goes outside certain boundaries or gets in a crash. Some apps warn drivers to slow down and turn off their cell phones if it senses a teen is driving.


Nothing can replace a parent’s guidance and supervision to help keep teen drivers safe on the road. Let your teen driver know your expectations for when he or she is behind the wheel. Use our Parent-Teen Driving Agreement to be sure you and your teen agree to your family’s “rules of the road.”

Preventing Collisions