The thought of your baby behind the wheel of a potentially dangerous piece of machinery disguised as an everyday automobile is enough to throw any parent into a panic. Still, there are some steps you can take to prepare yourself for the momentous day when you can finally hand the keys over — and they can chauffeur you around for a change.
Even though it may seem like you have a lot of time before you have to think about helping your teen study for permit tests and get signed up for driver's ed training, we all know how this goes, right? You'll have a teen climbing behind the wheel in the blink of an eye. And, yes, that thought can be both exciting and absolutely terrifying (arguably more of the second than the first).
In full disclosure, this will be a wild ride no matter how you approach it. But the following seven safety precautions can help prepare you both for this epic rite of passage.
1. Be the Example
As a parent, you’ve most likely been driving for so long that you’re oblivious to the routines you perform whenever you get in the car:
- Secure belongings.
- Buckle up.
- Check mirrors, gas gauge, and temperature levels.
- Turn on the tunes.
- Reverse and go.
You've done this so many times you don't have to think about it, but that doesn't mean your little master of observation hasn't been paying attention. Kids pick up on their parents' habits. Hopefully, the way you get ready to drive isn't lost on them — if you're setting a good example, that is. So, be mindful and always try to model safe driving behavior. You're molding future drivers, no matter their age!
2. Preach the Car Commandments
Seatbelts are a must. If there’s one thing your teen knows without a doubt, it’s your stance on seatbelts and how they’re mandatory — end of discussion. You didn’t spend all that time struggling through buckling and unbuckling them from their car seats as toddlers to have them get in a car either as a driver or as a passenger and not wear their seatbelt.
Phone-free zone. Stress this point over and over until it seems like their eyes will roll so hard that they’ll roll into another dimension. Make a song about it. Print out flyers and post them in the front and back seats of the car. Make a billboard-sized poster and hang it in the garage. Do whatever you can to ensure your teen knows to turn on the Do Not Disturb setting on their phone when they’re behind the wheel or it’s goodbye keys.
Multitasking is a no. Driving requires so much focus and mental acrobatics that you don’t want to worry about your teen eating, drinking, or messing with the music when 100% of their attention should be on their surroundings and the other drivers on the road.
No honking, tailgating, or hand gesturing. Road rage is real, and the reason it’s essential to show your teen how to remain calm even if a driver cuts you off or makes you slam on your brakes. The only thing you need to react to is what’s happening on the road and not let your emotions get involved.
Be respectful. Being in the car does not mean you’re in a bubble all by yourself; it actually means you’re more vulnerable to other people on the road, pedestrians included. You never know how someone else will react to your choices as a driver, so it’s best to stay calm.
No driving under any influence. Call Uber, Lyft, or anyone you trust, no matter what ungodly hour it is.
3. Share Your Experience
Think back to those almost forgotten days when you learned how to drive and share those stories with your teen. Tell them what it was like to take the driving test and if you were ever in a fender-bender. It’s helpful for them to know your journey to becoming a safe and experienced driver and that mistakes will be made, but that’s why preparing to drive is such a vital part of the process.
4. Practice Makes Prepared
Even if being in the passenger’s seat while your teen practices driving makes you stomp on your imaginary brakes like a lunatic, logging hours in the car is actually the best way your teen driver can improve their skills. During this time, you can teach them how to trust their instincts, explain with clear instructions when and what to do, and build their confidence so they can remain calm under pressure. Relay to them that the most important takeaway is that driving is a huge responsibility and that their safety is your number one concern.
5. Monitor From Home
Want to track your teen’s route, know the minute if they get into an accident or request medical services, are speeding, or are using their phones? There’s an app for that! In fact, there are many apps for that, and it will take a little bit of research to find one that you like. Here are three that are highly rated by parents:
- Life 360 is a free app that is popular with parents because it tracks location and lets you know a lot about their driving habits.
- FamiSafe is another great driving app that will alert you if your teen driver surpasses the speed limit or brakes too hard, and it also provides a weekly driving report that you can use to check for any unsafe patterns.
- Bouncie is a tracking device system that, once installed, sends info directly to your phone. For a monthly fee, this system will even monitor fuel economy, battery, oil, and engine condition — plus, it’ll even call roadside assistance if needed.
These apps are designed to give parents peace of mind, but you don’t want to do so without your teen’s knowledge. Have a conversation and explain why you want to use one of these apps, and make sure it’s because they know it’s all in the name of safety... not because you’re trying to spy on them.
6. Express Your Expectations
Parents expect a lot from their kids, especially when those kids are teens about to be trusted on the open road without said parents by their side. Before you do that, make sure you communicate your expectations, whether it concerns curfew, how many friends (if any) are allowed in the car, or the distance they’re driving. They need to know that rules and consequences are in place. Requiring your teen to pay for something related to the car’s maintenance, like filling up the gas tank, contributing toward insurance, or covering oil changes, is a great idea.
Having your teen help financially is an excellent way to instill ownership and a level of care they might not develop if they’re not held accountable.
7. Call On Your Village
Just like when your kids were little and you formed a network of support, it’s a good idea to do the same thing when your teen is about to start driving. Reach out to the parents in their friend group and see how things are going with their driving prep. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help, even if it’s only for encouragement and emotional support. Bonus: It’s like having your own system of watchdogs around town to report back on any unsafe driving that might be happening.
You’ll never 100% not worry about your kids when it comes to driving, but if you take the appropriate steps to educate and prepare them, you’ll be able to significantly reduce your anxiety — which will do the same for them. Navigating together through the levels of learning how to drive will build trust between you and your teen, and that trust will save your ever-loving sanity.