Most parents will take no leap of faith more frightening than handing a 16-year-old the car keys for the first time. The sobering statistics on young drivers give parents plenty of reasons to pray their teens practice defensive driving.


Automobile accidents are the number one killer of teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths in the age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 3,000 teens are killed in car wrecks each year. Most of the victims are boys.  The number of male drivers and passengers ages 15 to 19 who were killed in crashes from 2000 to 2006, was nearly double the number of female drivers and passengers killed, according to the CDC. Teen drivers – especially 16-year-old drivers — have more crashes per mile than other drivers and those crashes are more likely to be the fault of the driver.


But there is a lot parents can do to teach teens the defensive driving skills they need to make it safely from Point A to Point B until it’s time for them to worry about their kids.


Set a good example. The time to start teaching your teen defensive driving skills is while she is still riding in a booster seat. If your teen grows up riding to ballet practice or Little League games while you speed, tail-gate and yap constantly on the cell phone, guess what?


Practice, practice, practice. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. How do your teens learn defensive driving skills? Practice. High school driver education is only a start. Three out of four serious teen driver crashes are due to inexperience, according to a study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute in April 2011. The only way to gain experience is by spending time behind the wheel.  The CDC recommends at least 30 to 50 hours of supervised driving practice over at least six months. The Oregon Parent Guide to Teen Driving offers driving practice tips such as:


  • Don’t practice with other people or pets in the car. The distractions may create stress. Besides, when else can you have one-on-one time with your teen?
  • Start out in a parking lot or other low-risk setting.
  • The first few sessions should be under ideal conditions: daylight, good weather, light traffic, everyone in the car well-rested.
  • Expect mistakes and stay calm.
  • Stay focused. You need to be scanning the road and be alert for possible hazards.
  • Give instructions clearly, calmly and well in advance so that your teen has time to safely complete the maneuver. An example: “At the next light, take a left turn, so check your mirrors and signal before getting into the left lane.”
  • The Virginia Department of Education also offers a detailed teen driving teaching guide for parents.

Set limits. Twenty percent of teenage motor vehicle crash deaths in 2008 happened between 9 pm and midnight, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Limit nighttime driving. Driving with teen passengers increases the risk of an accident and the risk increases with the number of teen passengers. Limit who can ride in the car with your teen driver. A parent-teen driving contract can help you enforce such limits. A sample contract is available on the CDC’s website.


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See also:

Teen driving safety

Teen driving tips