by Matthew Devoti

Your child is nearing a landmark birthday. In a handful of months, she’ll be eligible to obtain her permit to drive. She’s already talking about taking the family car to school, her weekend job and to meet friends across town.

You’re anxious. And, you have every right to be concerned. Car collisions are the leading cause of death for teens age 15 to 20 years and teens crash at three times the rate of more experienced drivers. Yes, a car provides a tremendous amount of freedom while opening doors to opportunities but, a vehicle also introduces our children to dangers and threats they’ve not previously faced.

How can you prepare for this moment? What must you consider before handing the key fob or family car key to your child? And, what can you do to minimize risk, while empowering your children and protecting your family?

Steps may be taken to prepare your young adult to drive.
These steps include:

Consider the vehicle you plan to entrust to your teen.
Jamie Dunphy, a St. Louis insurance agent, says: “Safety first! Bigger isn’t better though newer may be, depending upon the car’s safety features.” Dunphy suggests checking safety data for any car you plan on purchasing for your teen and looking for cars equipped with such add-ons as side airbags and backup cameras.

Enroll your teen in a formal drivers’ education program.
A qualified program will be one that involves parents, guides your teen through the learning process by not putting them on the road before they’re ready, while including “behind-the-wheel” training. Many public school districts offer a drivers’ education course to their students. Private schools may offer the program at a price. Reach out to your insurance agent or state highway patrol for other options available in your area. Natalie Bess, another St. Louis-area agent, says: “Always opt into the teen driver program any insurer offers” as successful completion of the program often results in a discount on your premium.

Practice with your teen.
Sit beside your teen while they drive, both before and after they earn their full license to check on their progress and developing driving habits. Many states have mandatory, minimum hours of supervised driving which a new driver must accumulate before qualifying for a full license. According to Dunphy, parents should make sure that they supervise their teens in a number of different conditions before letting their teen drive solo; these circumstances include:

  • Traffic
  • Rain and wet pavement conditions
  • Snow and ice conditions
  • Night-time and after dark
  • Highway, parkway and Interstate driving
  • Construction

Set a good example by driving the way you want your teen to drive.
Teen drivers mimic your behaviors—both good and bad. Show your teen how one should drive a vehicle by following traffic laws, avoiding aggressive driving, and not driving distracted, including driving while eating, grooming, texting, placing or taking calls or otherwise using your cellular phone. Teens who see a parent driving distracted are two to four times more likely to also drive distracted. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not an option.

Sign a Parent-Teen Agreement.
These agreements set expectations for your teen and you. Typically, the teen driver makes promises consistent with good driving habits, such as pledging to not operate a phone in any way while driving, always wearing a seat belt and obeying all traffic laws, including speed limits and traffic control signs and devices.

Set a rule limiting the number of passengers in your teen’s car.
The fatality risk for teen drivers is 3.6 times higher when teens drive with passengers. Teens must be aware of the risk posed by passengers acting in a way that distracts them while driving. Many parents immediately set rules requiring their teen obtain parental permission before driving with others in their car.

Make your teen earn their driving privilege.
Driving a car is a privilege, not a right. Forcing your teen to earn the privilege helps them understand both the responsibility and value of driving.

And, of course, communicate with your insurer about your new driver.
Bess instructs: “It is always a great idea to report to your agent when your new driver gets their permit. This will allow the agency to be able to help guide you to prepare for the new driver.” Guidance provided by your insurer includes identification of available discounts, the costs to insurer specific vehicles your family may add to accommodate your new driver and the inevitable rate changes associated with adding a new driver to any policy. Bess adds: “Call your agent to get a quote before you buy a car. This way you know fully what the cost of the new driver and new are going to be.”

Dunphy’s final word: “Teen drivers are inexperienced and may have trouble making decisions. The more education and practice, the better.”