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The research and our experience tells us that the earlier we can get parents engaged in this dialogue and the longer we can keep them engaged, the more likely their teens will be safer drivers. But we live in an age where time seems to be at a premium. I’m sure a lot of parents find it difficult to allocate the amount of time to talk with their son or daughter that we would consider ideal.”   – Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (Copeland, 2012)

How to teach teens about safe driving

In their book Nudge, psychologists Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein talk about the power of nudging people toward certain goals, and how small things can lead to a profound influence on their behavior. We are social creatures who are heavily influenced by our environment, and tens of thousands of studies have shown that even subconscious cues alter our behavior. Teens are no exception to this rule.

You want your teen to develop safe driving habits, and habits are formed through repetition. So how does a parent find the time these days to give their kids all they need to develop safe driving habits? The key is to take advantage of teaching opportunities in everyday life. Teaching teens about safe driving should be a lifestyle issue, not something you do once and then forget about. Here are some tips that will help you accomplish this:

Give constant friendly reminders

In one survey, 62% of teens said that getting friendly reminders from parents might help them to stop doing something. (Copeland, 5-14-2012) So before you let your teen out the door, try to give at least one of these simple reminders:

  • Drive safely, because you’re not immortal
  • Make sure seatbelts are on before you pull out
  • No texting or using your phone while behind the wheel
  • Never drink and drive
  • No shenanigans behind the wheel
  • Pull over if you need to use your phone or text
  • Keep your focus on the road
  • No drinking or eating in the car
  • And so on.

The more your teen hears these reminders, the more likely it is that their behavior will follow. Just telling them once doesn’t do the trick. Your teen may spit out a dreary “I know, duh…” each time (it’s what teens do), but keep it up anyway. Always deliver the message with a positive spin and good cheer; don’t say it in a condescending way. Just try to make these safety reminders a habitual routine every time they reach for the keys, as though they are a normal extension of your goodbyes. Kids tend to get more confident as they learn to drive, so keeping up these reminders can also be a way of hedging against overconfidence.

“Before I drove alone for the first time, my father dangled the keys in front of my face and said, ‘You now have control of a deadly weapon.’ That was over 50 years ago, but I remember his warning every time I start my car.” – Clara K. Jones (Readers Digest, 7/2015 p.7)

Engage in ongoing driver’s education

Continue the lessons even after a teen starts driving on their own, otherwise the habits can start to degrade.

A) Take rides with them from time to time to check their progress and keep them from backsliding.

B) When riding in the car with them, give them pop quizzes about the speed limit in a particular area to see if they’re paying attention.

C) Whenever they’re riding in the car with you, narrate your own driving habits that you want them to emulate and point out what you see on the road or any safety issues that come up. (Look at that idiot talking on the phone; How am I supposed to know what he’s doing when he doesn’t use his turn signal?) Discussing driving issues like this really does make a big difference over time.

Send periodic texts (Though not while a child is driving)

Texting is a great way to deliver safety messages to your teen. Text them with informative links to news stories about car accidents or other driving safety information. Send a text at the end of the school day to remind them to “drive safe on the way home – no texting while driving.” Don’t do this so often that it comes off as nagging (in which case they may begin toning out and ignoring the messages), just often enough that it adds an extra layer of messaging. Using friendly reminders a few times a week and texting links to stories whenever you come across them sets a good pace.

Parents’ involvement and influence in the teen driving experience can literally mean the difference between life and death for their child.”  – Susan Duchak, head of the Allstate Foundation’s teen safe driving program (Copeland, 5-14-2012)

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