Parents have been driving up to me with lots of questions about how they can ensure their teen drives safely once they have their license.  Well, let me take the wheel and provide some information on this topic of safe driving.

Be a role model

More than 5,500 teens die in this country every year in car crashes. If you want to keep your teen safe on the road, I have some suggestions. First—parents be a role model to your teen driver. That means you need to wear your seat belt at all times, never drink and drive. In addition, you should never eat or text or do anything else that will distract you while driving. Lastly, remember to stay within the speed limit as you obey all traffic laws.

Remind new drivers to be cautious

Speaking of laws, know the laws in regard to graduated driver’s licenses in Vermont or upstate New York.  These laws summarize what the restrictions and limitations are on teen drivers who have permits and provisional licenses. For example, crash risks are nearly double with one passenger in the car. It is a good idea to not to let your child have any passengers for their first six months after getting their license. Even if your teen has had sufficient hours of practice with a driving instructor or with you, there is no harm in doing even more supervised practice such as night and bad weather driving.

Set rules for safe driving

A great idea is for you to create a written parent-teen driving agreement or contract even before your teen gets their learner’s permit.  This agreement can lay out rules and expectations for your teen as they practice safe driving. You can then tie those rules to consequences and privileges that might be relaxed as your teen gets older.  For example, you can insist on that agreement that your teen tells you where they are going and with whom. That document can state that, they will have the car home by a certain time and that they will not drive at night.  Have them agree that they will not drive under the influence or try to text or talk on their cell phones.

Practice safe driving

If your teen is on a medication, check with his or her health care professional to make sure that they are ok to drive with that medication in their system.  Make sure the car that is being driven is safe and in good condition. If your teen wants to buy a car and it’s a used one, make sure it’s been inspected before they buy it and that its safety ratings are ok. If you don’t think your teen is mature enough to drive or isn’t interested in driving, don’t force your teen or encourage them to rush into getting licensed.

Hopefully, tips like these will steer you in the right direction, if you want to keep your teen safe when they drive on the road.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

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