When teens first start driving solo, their parents often have mixed emotions.
On the one hand — sweet relief! The days of “parent taxi service” and spending every second of free time driving kids to school, sports and social events (and everything else they want to do) are over at last. They can get themselves where they need to go.
On the other hand, your teen (who sometimes can’t be trusted to do simple things like unplug the curling iron or put down the garage door) is about to pilot two-plus tons of steel down the street. That’s a lot of power and responsibility — and enough to keep any parent up at night.
So, how do you help your new driver maximize the benefits of driving, while minimizing the risks? Here are a few tips.
1. Know the law. Research rules specific to your location and your teen’s age. This includes curfew for new drivers, regulations about how many people can be in the car with a new driver, texting and talking on the phone while driving, etc. Make sure your teen can recite these back to you — and revisit them often. Be abundantly clear that driving is a privilege, not a right, and he or she will lose car privileges immediately for violating any driving or traffic laws.
2. Review what your teens should do in the event of an accident — regardless of who’s at fault. Print the procedure out and put a copy in the car. Make sure your kids know where the registration and insurance cards are in the vehicle they’re using. Role play what to say and do if they’re involved in an accident.
3. Increase teens’ driving privileges slowly. Safe driving takes both skill and good judgment, which develop with practice over time. Let them have the keys for some short runs—to school, the grocery store, etc. As they gain confidence and experience driving on their own, you and your teens can decide together how and when to increase their driving days and ranges.
4. Consider installing a GPS tracker for the vehicles your teens are driving. This increases peace of mind for both you and your new drivers. You’ll know where they are, and they’ll know you can find them if they get lost, run out of fuel, or have an emergency.
5. Decide ahead of time on who pays for what. Will you provide them with a vehicle? Do they need to pay for their own gas or auto insurance? Kids take privileges more seriously when they have some skin in the game. Making them responsible for some of the costs of driving helps teach responsibility.
Review these rules for the road early and often. Then, hug your teens, tell them you’re proud of their growing independence and say a prayer for and with them every time they get behind the wheel.
Laura Holmes Buddenberg joined Father Flanagan's Boys' Home in January 2000. As a training manager at Boys Town, Buddenberg works as an administrator, writer and trainer, specializing in teen dating and relationships, media awareness, family spirituality, abuse and other issues affecting today's families.