Worrying about your kids’ safety is just part of being a parent, but there’s one event that really amplifies this stress for most parents – the moment when your teenager starts driving. If that time is on the horizon for your family, don’t panic. Our board-certified pediatricians at Children’s Wellness Center have compiled some helpful tips for both parents and teens to make the early years of driving a safe, educational, and maybe even enjoyable experience.
Tips for Parents
- Go beyond the minimum state requirements for driving practice. Georgia law requires 40 hours of supervised driving experience before teens can get their full driver’s license, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 50 hours.
- Start teaching your teen the basic skills in an easy, low-traffic and low-speed environment first. Then, gradually add in new skills and situations for them to master, like night driving, heavy traffic areas, interstates, etc.
- When looking for a vehicle for your teen driver, midsize or full-size cars with the latest safety measures are ideal. Steer clear of sports cars (which make speeding more tempting) and SUVs. SUVs are easier to roll over than other cars, and these crashes are more likely to cause injuries in children, teens, and adults alike.
- Be a good driving role model (no matter what age your child is) – avoid distractions, obey all traffic laws, and remind yourself to drive in the same way you would want your kids to drive.
- When you’re supervising your teen’s driving, stay calm and avoid yelling out critiques while they’re trying to focus on the road. If they make a mistake, have them pull into a parking lot or other safe place and have a conversation about what they should have done differently.
- Keep a log of your teen’s driving lessons, including the location, time, what skills you working on during each session, how long each session lasts, etc.
- The state of Georgia places restrictions on the number of passengers teens can have in their car, but as a parent, you can feel free to give your teen stricter limitations.
- Give your kids a limit on how far from home they’re allowed to drive, and define specific areas where they’re not allowed to drive by themselves.
- Even if you’ve already discussed underage drinking, make sure your teenager truly understands the importance of not drinking and driving.
- Some teens simply develop the decision-making skills they need later than others, so if you don’t feel that your teenager can safely begin learning to drive, you can have them wait to start the process, even if they’ve met Georgia’s age requirements.
- Communicate to your teen that the restrictions you put on their driving privileges are there for their own safety, and that you both have the same goal: for them to be safe on the road.
- Be careful about having your teen drive their younger siblings around. The Georgia legal restrictions on passengers for young drivers only apply to kids who aren’t in the driver’s immediate family, but siblings can be just as distracting as friends. For instance, it’s probably not a good idea to have your teenager drive four eight-year-olds to their baseball game.
- In their first few months of unsupervised driving, consider giving your teen a driving curfew so that they aren’t driving when it’s too dark or when they’re likely to be tired.
- Establish a parent-teen driving agreement like the one provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics, so that everyone is clear from the beginning about the driving rules.
- Familiarize yourself with the Georgia Graduated License Program. Under these laws, teens start with a learner’s permit, then an intermediate license, and only receive an unrestricted license after age 18.
Tips for Teen Drivers
- Don’t use your phone while your car is not parked (even if you’re stopped at a stoplight). This includes calling, texting, using social media, etc. If you need to use your phone, pull over into a parking lot or other safe area first.
- Be conscious of the weather. Rain, wind, snow, and other issues can strongly impact your ability to drive, so if you’re not comfortable driving in certain weather conditions, ask your parent to supervise.
- Learn how to handle emergency situations that might occur while you’re driving, like what to do if your tire blows out, if your car overheats, if you start to skid, if you get into an accident, etc.
- Before you start a drive, mentally review the route you’ll be taking so that you can focus more on watching the road, not on finding your way or messing with your navigation app.
- Never drive after using alcohol or drugs (including pain pills and certain other prescription medications), and never get in the car with a driver who has been using these substances (whether they’re a teenager or an adult).
- Don’t eat or drink while you’re driving – keep your hands and your mind distraction-free.
- Keep your music at a low enough volume so you can always hear emergency vehicles or other cars’ horns.
- Make sure any passengers in your vehicle are wearing their seatbelts, because you may be held responsible if there’s a crash and someone is hurt.
- Don’t drive when you’re angry, upset, or tired. These can all lead you to be distracted, and drowsy driving is particularly dangerous, so make sure you’re following the right sleep recommendations for teenagers.
- Never pick up hitchhikers, even if you’re concerned for his/her safety.
- Always call your parents if you won’t make it home before your curfew. They might be a little unhappy that you’re coming home late, but they’ll be much more upset if you don’t call, because they’ll be worrying that you’ve been in an accident.
The early driving years can really show the complex relationship between a teen and their parents – the teen is developing a desire for independence, while the parents need to retain some authority to teach their child how to be a responsible adult. But remember, everyone has the same goal for a young driver: to get from point A to point B safely. If you have more questions about your teenager’s health and safety, give us a call or schedule an appointment at Children’s Wellness Center online.