That dreaded day has finally arrived: your teen has come home with his or her learner’s permit, and now you have a whole new set of worries. How do you keep your child safe once he or she gets behind the steering wheel?

One of the first things you should do is understand exactly what risks are involved in letting your teen drive. Then you can set some guidelines that will help.

Common Characteristics of Teen Vehicle Crashes

Most vehicle crashes involving teens have been related to one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Driver error
  • Speeding
  • Having three or more passengers
  • Single vehicle involvement
  • Drinking alcohol beforehand
  • Driving at night
  • Distractions such as food, music, cell phones

Fatal crashes involving teens are related to one or more of the factors above, as well as not wearing seatbelts.

What You Can Do to Help Keep Your Teen Safe

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recommends the following tips for keeping your teen safe:

Don’t Count on Driver Education and Training

Driver education and training is certainly important, but it doesn’t mean that your teen is going to be a safe driver. Teen crashes often relate to the teen’s attitudes and decision-making skills. Teens tend to be more influenced by peer pressure and rebellion than advice from adults. Seeing themselves as immune to harm, they may speed or fail to use safety belts, regardless of training.

Plan Practice Sessions

Actively help your teen learn to drive by planning driving sessions for at least six months. Start slowly, helping your teen to master driving in a variety of settings. Point out safety rules, signs, and potential hazards on the road. Emphasize the importance of paying attention at all times. You should help your teen work up to driving in heavy traffic, on the freeway, and at night. Supervised sessions should continue even after your teen gets his or her license.

Don’t Let Your Teen Drive Late at Night

Fatal crashes involving teens tend to occur between 9 pm and midnight. There are several reasons for this:

  • Driving at night requires more skill than driving during the day.
  • Late night outings tend to be recreational, leading to increased distraction and risk-taking.

Therefore, you would be wise to restrict your teens driving to no later than 9 pm, when possible.

Restrict the Number of Passengers in Your Teen’s Car

It’s not possible to know what your teen is doing when he or she is off somewhere in the car. However, you can make it a rule that no more than two passengers are allowed in the vehicle at one time. Teens are more easily distracted and susceptible to peer pressure when there are more than two passengers in the car (something that greatly increases the risk of having a crash). Many states have graduated licensing rules that prohibit teens from driving with persons other than family members and restrict night driving. Enforce your own rules on these matters even if your state hasn’t made them law.

Choose a Safe Vehicle for Your Teen

Think about what vehicle would provide the most protection for your teen. Cars that are sporty or have performance images are likely to encourage speeding. Small cars don’t offer as much protection as larger cars. Trucks and sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are likely to tip over, especially those that are smaller. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a truck or SUV, just because it is bigger, is safer. In addition to tippiness, SUVs and trucks are not held to the same federal safety standards governing automobiles; their driver and passenger areas may be less likely to offer protection in the event of a crash. Minivans offer the same size and weight benefits as do trucks and SUVs and are required to meet federal safety standards. Minivans may represent a particularly good choice for many teens.

Insist That Your Teen Wear a Seatbelt

Consistent seatbelt use among teens is low. Therefore, encourage your teen to develop a habit of wearing a seatbelt. Every time your teen leaves the house in a vehicle, insist that he or she wear a seatbelt.

Talk to Your Teen About Drinking, Drug Use, and Driving

Make it clear to your teen that it is illegal and very dangerous to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Stress that even small amounts of alcohol or drugs can impair driving, even if he or she feels competent to drive. Tell your child to call you for a ride if he or she has been drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

Set a Good Example

If you personally speed, tailgate, or have other reckless driving habits, your teen is likely to imitate these habits. Road rage—even if it stays inside your own car—sets a very bad precedent for the future driving habits of your children. Set a good example of how you want your teen to drive. Think of your teen’s safety and practice what you preach.

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages the use of “safe ride” agreements with teens, an example of which can be found on the AAP website.