While driving home one evening last week, I found myself stopped in traffic behind a van with two hand-written signs taped to the back: “STUDENT DRIVER BEHIND THE WHEEL” and “THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE AND SYMPATHY.” I chuckled as I remembered learning to drive many years ago, and wondered how the experience might have prematurely aged my parents.
Instructing your child on in the critical skills of how to drive can be a bittersweet moment for any parent. While proud to see them reach a significant landmark, that pride is often tinged with sadness when you recognize that driving may be among the last skills you teach them before they become a fully independent adult.
Regardless of how you may feel about this landmark, you invariably want to make sure your children learn the skills of safe driving. Your years of driving experience do not make what to teach or where to start obvious. It may be harder to remember to pass along driving skills that are second nature to the teacher—or they may not be correct!
Merriam Insurance recommends parents of teen drivers prioritize the core essentials of safe driving and follow these crucial driving safety tips.
- Turn off the phone and put it in the glove box. Up to six in ten traffic accidents involving teens involves distracted driving, according to new research commissioned by the American Automobile Association. Cell phones are, by far, the most common source of distraction. Your first parental rule should be turning cell phones off and putting them out of sight. This limits the temptation to text or otherwise use the phone while driving. Nothing is so important that it cannot wait until you have arrived at your destination.
- Respect the speed limit. Speed limits, like stop lights and stop signs, are not suggestions. Excessive speed is a factor in a significant number of crashes, especially among teens who may not understand how to intuitively “feel” the speed they’re driving or who are still learning how to accelerate properly. When riding along with teen drivers, make sure to point out any time they exceed the speed limit by more than a few miles per hour so that they learn to continuously self-monitor their speed as they drive.
- Zero alcohol and drug tolerance. Teen drivers are less likely than adults to drink and drive, yet they are affected much more severely when they do. Emphasize, in the most compelling way you can, that aside from underage drinking being illegal for teens, even a single drink can result in major impairment and severe legal consequences. A good practice is an agreement between you and your teen stating that in the event they are impaired, they should contact you to get a safe ride home.
- Avoid harsh cornering. Practically every city and town have a “dead man’s curve,” a sharp bend that ensnares careless drivers. Teach new drivers that the proper way to navigate a corner is to brake prior to the corner, when the wheels are still straight. This helps to avoid traction loss that can leave a vehicle skidding out of control as the road turns.
- Make seatbelts a habit. It may be hard to believe, but there are still many drivers who don’t wear a seatbelt. Teens exhibit a lower rate of seatbelt use than other age groups. The consequences can be disastrous. Of all teen traffic fatalities in 2016, 48 percent were not wearing a seatbelt.
- Pay close attention to the weather. Poor weather conditions are a contributing factor in a large number of accidents. Teen drivers are especially vulnerable because they do not have much practice dealing with inclement conditions such as snow, ice and fog. Teach your teen how to compensate for poor weather conditions by slowing down and increasing their following distance.
- Brake gradually before a stop. It can take some time to develop a natural feel for bringing vehicles to a stop, and many new drivers tend to wait too long before they begin braking, requiring them to brake hard to compensate. When riding along with your teen, tell them when they should begin to slow as they approach stop signs and red lights.
- Use headlights all the time. Headlight use increases your vehicle’s visibility to other drivers not only at night, but also during the day. Flipping on headlights before every drive is a quick and easy win. Be sure that your high beams are not on unless conditions dictate.
- Err on the side of caution at yellow lights. Attempting to outrun yellow lights is a potentially dangerous practice that should be nipped in the bud before it becomes a habit. During lessons, teach your son or daughter to always err on the side of caution when approaching yellow lights, which means stopping for them rather than running them.
- Keep both hands on the wheel. Drivers have the most control over their vehicle when both hands are on the wheel. When hands aren’t being used for other tasks, like changing gears or activating a turn signal, they should generally be on the wheel in the “9 and 3 position,” which has become the standard position since the introduction of airbags. Another benefit of keeping hands on the wheel is that it helps discourage distracted driving.
- Maintain a safe following distance. A safe following distance is key to avoiding obstacles and hazards on the road, or unexpected actions by the vehicles in front of you. The general rule for following distance is one car length for every 10 miles per hour between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of you.
- Avoid unnecessary lane changes. Irresponsible lane changes, especially those that stem from aggressive rather than defensive driving, are another cause of many accidents involving teens. Parents should stress the risks of driving behaviors such as weaving between lanes, cutting off other drivers, dangerous passing, or not using turn signals.
- Use your turn signals. A large number of rear-end crashes are caused because the driver of the first car did not give the car behind them proper information. Using your turn signals will allow the driver behind you to know your intentions, instead of having to guess, and perhaps guess wrong.
- Limit Distractions. Merriam Insurance recommends that all drivers attend a state sanctioned Defensive Driving Course. Not only will you gain insight into the best practices of driving, you will save money on your auto insurance and may even reduce existing points off your license.
Merriam Insurance recommends you contact us to learn more about this critical issue.