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How to Talk to Your Teens About the Top 5 Teen Driving Dangers

If you’re a parent, guardian or adult family member of a teenage driver, then you know that helping them stay safe on the road is a top priority. After you’ve invested in driver’s ed classes, spent hours behind the wheel coaching their driving skills and prepped a safety kit for their vehicle, you might be wondering what else you can do to help keep them safe behind the wheel.

The good news is there’s a free, easy technique you can use to help boost their safety: Talk to them!

Just spending a few minutes every week talking about the biggest teenage driving dangers — and how your teen can avoid them — can make a big difference. In fact, while motor vehicle crashes are the number 1 cause of death for US teens, it’s estimated that nearly one-third of fatal accidents involving young drivers are due to preventable factors such as speeding. By making sure your teen is aware of those factors, and committed to eliminating them from their own driving, you can significantly reduce their risk of accidents on the road.

Starting the Conversation

The best time to start the conversation is before your teen starts driving — but it’s never too late. Even if your teen has been behind the wheel for a few years now, it’s still a good idea to talk about safe-driving skills.

Wondering how to get the conversation started? Here are a few ideas:

  • While watching movies or television with your teen, you likely won’t have to wait long for an on-screen vehicle accident, especially if your teen is a fan of the action, mystery or thriller genres. Even TV commercials will often show car accidents. Each one is an opportunity to start a conversation about road safety.
  • If your teen loves sports or the outdoors, the drive to or from a game, hike or fishing trip can be the perfect time to talk while you have a captive audience. It’s even better if another responsible adult can drive and you can focus all your attention on communicating with your teen.
  • For teens who are inclined toward science or math, or who don’t believe anything not backed up by hard data, try opening with a few stats. For example, almost 11 fatal car accidents every day involve young drivers (ages 15-20). See if your teen can calculate how many crashes that is in a year (sadly, over 4,000). Doing the math themselves might help your teen realize how serious this topic is.
  • Remember that October 18-26 is National Teen Driver Safety Week. Your teens will likely be seeing posts and hashtags on the topic on social media, so this is a perfect time to start or reinforce conversations about safe-driving skills.

Tip: To make sure you have a productive conversation, both you and your teen should put away your phones and any other devices that might be a distraction while you talk.

Whether you gather the whole family at the dinner table or have an intimate one-on-one with your teen, there are five main teenage driving dangers that should be the focus of your conversation.

Top 5 Dangers of Teenage Driving

  1. Impaired Driving
  2. Unbuckled Seatbelts
  3. Distracted Driving
  4. Speeding
  5. Passengers

Teenage Driving Danger: Driving Under the Influence

As an overall rule, teens shouldn’t be drinking at all — and they especially should not be drinking while driving! However, in a recent survey, nearly 1 in 3 teens reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days. Even more worrisome, 1 in 17 reported driving after drinking alcohol.

This is a big problem, because as little as two drinks can increase the likelihood of an accident by 100%.

Be sure to tell your teen that drinking and driving doesn’t just break your family’s rules — it breaks the law. Beyond having their keys taken away or losing other privileges at home, teens could face serious legal consequences if they mix alcohol with driving. These can include the loss of their license, big fines and even jail time.

It’s also important that your teen understands that alcohol isn’t the only substance that can seriously impair their driving. Illicit drugs such as marijuana, prescription medication and even some over-the-counter medication can slow their reaction time, reduce their awareness of their surroundings or impede their ability to think critically.

Safe-Driving Rule: Never mix alcohol and driving. And never drive when you’re under the influence of any impairing substance.

Teenage Driving Danger: Driving Without Buckling Up

It’s a simple action that can save your life: Whenever you get into any vehicle, put on your seatbelt!

This should be a firm rule for everyone in your family, not just your teen driver. Whether you’re a driver or a passenger, in the front seat or back seat, your seatbelt should be on any time you’re in a vehicle — even if it’s not yet moving. And it should apply in all vehicles: whether you’re in your car, a friend’s car, a taxi, a vehicle for a ride-sharing service, a hotel shuttle or even a bumper car!

Remind your teen that putting on their seatbelt isn’t just about their safety. It’s about the safety of everyone in the car with them. In accidents, especially high-speed accidents, an unbuckled person can be thrown out of their seat. Even if they’re not ejected from the vehicle, they may collide with seats, windows, the windshield or other passengers — and if they do, they may cause serious injury to their fellow passengers.

 In addition, seatbelts are required by law in many states. That’s right: Seatbelts don’t just protect your safety in case of an accident, they also protect your savings every time you drive! Be sure your teen knows that they could be in for a hefty fine if they’re caught driving without a seatbelt on. And that’s on top of the trouble they’ll get in at home for not following this simple but essential rule.

Safe-Driving Rule: Always buckle up. And always make all your passengers buckle up, too.

Teenage Driving Danger: Driving While Distracted

When the phone rings or buzzes, it can be hard to ignore it. But that’s exactly what your teen needs to do when driving. Avoiding distractions like cell phones is critically important for drivers of all ages, but most especially teens who are still building their good driving skills.

Make it a firm rule in your household that no one is allowed to use a phone while driving — and this goes for parents and guardians, too! Making or taking calls, sending or reading texts, using mobile apps or doing anything else that takes your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel are all forms of distracted driving.

Here are some helpful strategies you and your teen can use to avoid phone distractions while driving:

  • Set your phone to “silent” or “do not disturb” before starting the car. You’ll be less tempted to reach for your phone if you can’t hear incoming calls and texts.
  • Store the phone in a bag, purse, glovebox or somewhere else out of sight so you’re not tempted to reach for it while driving.
  • Designate a passenger as your official “phone steward” and hand your phone to them. They can read incoming texts aloud and type back responses without you needing to take your eyes off the road.
  • If you’re driving alone or don’t have a designated “phone steward,” always be sure to pull off the road to make a phone call or send a text.

Remind your teen that phones aren’t the only distractions they need to avoid while driving. Turning to talk to passengers, fussing with audio and climate controls, adjusting their music playlist on a mobile device, eating food and drinking can all be dangerous distractions that increase the likelihood of an accident.

Safe-Driving Rule: Never use your phone while driving. And eliminate any other distractions that take your eyes or ears away from the road.

Teenage Driving Danger: Driving Too Fast

Speeding does more than cause accidents — it can make those accidents worse and more deadly. In fact, for over a quarter of all fatal vehicle accidents involving teen drivers, speed is a contributing factor to the crash. While it might feel like speeding could get you to your destination a few minutes faster, following the speed limit is the best way to make sure you actually arrive at your destination.

Establish a clear rule that your teen should always drive at or below the speed limit at all times — even if they’re running behind, in a rush or the road is totally empty except for them. Explain that they may even need to drive under the speed limit if there is adverse weather or other hazardous road conditions. Rain, fog, snow, sleet and freezing rain can all reduce visibility and decrease your vehicle’s traction on the road. Construction, potholes, heavy traffic or other drivers engaging in unsafe driving behaviors (such as swerving across lanes) are also factors that should prompt your teen to ease up on the gas.

The other thing your teen show know about speeding? Even if they don’t get into an accident, it can get really expensive! On top of having to pay a big fine (in some states, speeding tickets can cost much as $1,000!), your insurance company may take your teen’s speeding ticket(s) into consideration when calculating insurance rates. Depending on how fast your teen was going, they might also lose points from their license — and if they lose too many points, they might also lose their license.

Ask your teen how much they’d pay to arrive at their destination two or three minutes faster. Is it really worth it? Definitely not!

Safe-Driving Rule: Always respect the speed limit. And always slow down to a safe speed if there are poor road conditions.

Teenage Driving Danger: Driving with Multiple Passengers

While it’s always fun to hang out with friends, that socialization shouldn’t be happening in the car — especially if your teen is behind the wheel. Research shows that each additional passenger in their vehicle increases their likelihood of an accident.

Plus, it many states, it may be illegal for your teen to have any passengers in their vehicle. Especially in states with a Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program, there might be strict rules about how many passengers can be in a car if a teen is behind the wheel. Some states go further and put additional restrictions around passengers, such as only allowing passengers who are over the age of 21 unless they’re family members. You and your teen should research your local laws and know exactly what the rules are before anyone gets in the car with your teen driver.

Even if your state doesn’t have restrictions on passengers, you may want to set family rules about how many passengers your teen can have in the vehicle when they’re driving. These rules should apply when other teens are driving, too: Set a clear expectation that your teen should not get into a vehicle driven by another teenager if there are more than the allowable number of passengers in the vehicle.

Safe-Driving Rule: Limit passengers to a reasonable number. And don’t get in the car if another teen driver has too many passengers in their vehicle.


A Conversation Worth Repeating

Here’s the most important tip of all when it comes to talking to your teen about safe driving: Never stop!

 The reality is that one conversation about safe driving isn’t enough. You’ll need to have this conversation over and over again, until both you and your teen are sick of talking about it — and then you need to keep talking about it even more! You can never have this conversation too many times, because this is a conversation that could save your teen driver’s life.

However, not every conversation has to be a serious sit-down at the dinner table. Here are a few ideas for shaking up your communication style:

  • Write your teen an old-fashioned, hand-written letter. Just for fun, you could even mail it! Your teen likely rarely gets letters in the mail, so this could be a simple but heartfelt way to catch their attention.
  • Send your teen an email or put it in a text message. Be goofy and fill it with emojis, gifs and more. It might make your teen roll their eyes, but the dorkier it is, the more likely they are to remember it.
  • Leave sticky notes on the car’s dashboard, the bathroom mirror or anywhere else that will catch your teen driver’s attention. Don’t be afraid to go overboard and cover an entire wall with sticky notes! This is important stuff and whatever you can do to help your teen remember will be worth it.
  • Post it on social media and tag your teen’s account. If you know their friends’ accounts, don’t be afraid to tag them too. Best-case scenario you help keep multiple teen drivers safe on the road!
  • Have the whole family make the Safe Driving Promise. Hang the signed Promises in a highly visible place in your home as a daily visual reminder of the importance of avoiding driving dangers.
  • Give your teen a Free Ride card. This is a physical reminder that your teen driver can carry with them in their wallet, purse, pocket or phone case. It will show your teen that their safety comes first — and they can count on you to help keep them safe.

There’s one more powerful action you can take to drive home the importance of safe-driving skills: be a good role model every time you get behind the wheel. Show your teen that you not only talk about safe-driving skills, but also practice them every single time you drive.

In addition, if you and your teen driver are doing somewhere together, think about letting them take the wheel. Your teen still has a long way to go before they’re an expert driver, and every minute of practice and coaching they get can help. Be sure to compliment them when they practice their safe-driving skills and reward good driving with more opportunities to get behind the wheel.

Lastly, if your teen won’t listen, don’t feel bad about taking away their keys: It’s better to have a teen who’s mad at you than a teen who’s been injured (or worse) in a preventable car accident.

Looking for more ways to keep your teen safe on the road? Be sure to visit our collection of Teen Driver Safety Resources for Families for more helpful articles. And if you’d like to combine safety with savings, it’s worth checking out the Teen Safe Driver program. The free smartphone app monitors distracted driving and other risky behaviors to help your teen learn how to drive safer and smarter Plus you could earn a 10% discount on your American Family car insurance after your teen completes 3,000 miles or one year in the program!*

*Certain restrictions may apply, and the discount may vary or not apply to all coverage on a policy. Please talk to your agent for details. Once eligibility requirements are met, teenagers up to age 18 will receive a 10% discount and then from agent 19 until the renewal after they turn 21 they will receive a 5% discount.


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Related Topics: Safe Driving , Teen Drivers