It’s National Teen Driver Safety Week, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) raises awareness about issues related to the youngest drivers on the road. NHTSA notes that though teen driver fatalities have declined in recent years, “young drivers – particularly 16- and 17-year-olds - are significantly over-represented in fatal crashes.”


Handing over the keys is a worrying experience for most parents, but by setting expectations well before your teen starts to drive, you may be able to reduce your teen’s risk of a crash. NHTSA recommends five rules that parents should set for new drivers.

NHTSA’s 5 to Drive

No Cellphones: It’s not just texting that teen drivers should stay away from while driving. New drivers need to focus all their attention on the road, so cellphones, including hands-free cellphones, should never be used while the teen is driving. Some cars, like those from Ford, offer “Do Not Disturb” modes for phones to prevent the phone from being used while driving. There are also a number of apps that can disable a phone while the vehicle is in motion, removing temptation from teens. Sound too tough? Ten percent of fatal crashes involving teen drivers occurred because of driver distraction, according to NHTSA. Putting away the cellphone doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?

No Extra Passengers: A number of studies have found that teen drivers are more likely to engage in a risky driving behavior, like speeding, tailgating, failing to yield, weaving, showing off or driving erratically, than when they drive alone. While state graduated licensing laws often limit the number of passengers a teen driver can have, parents should not allow teens to drive with their friends in the car.

No Speeding: In 2012, excessive speed was a factor in 48 percent of crashes that were fatal to teen drivers, reports NHTSA. New drivers just don’t have the skills or decision-making ability to handle extra speed. Talk to your teen about how risky speeding is. Some cars also offer tools to monitor and limit teen drivers. Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system can send a notification to a parent if the car goes over a certain speed. Ford’s MyKey system allows parents to limit a car’s top speed when a teen is driving.

No Alcohol: This rule seems pretty basic, given that it’s illegal for teens to drink at all, let alone drink and drive. However, NHTSA reports that in 2012, 28 percent of teen drivers who had fatal crashes had been drinking. Let your teen know that drinking and driving, or getting into a car with a driver who has been drinking, is unacceptable.

Always Buckle Up: No parent would let a toddler ride in an unbuckled car seat, yet teen drivers are the group that’s least likely to buckle up. NHTSA says that 55 percent of 15- to 20-year-old passengers who were killed in a car crash weren’t wearing a seat belt. It adds the 49 percent of teen drivers who were killed in car crashes while sober weren’t buckled up. Teen drivers who had been drinking were even worse off: 55 percent of teen drivers killed in crashes after drinking were not wearing their seat belts. Talk to your teen about the importance of buckling up. If you worry about the message getting through, Ford’s MyKey system can disable the car’s radio until everyone in the car has their seat belt on. 

NHTSA’s 5 to Drive rules are an excellent first step to keep teen drivers safe, but teens are experts at detecting hypocrisy. Set a good example and follow these rules when you drive, even if your kids are years away from taking the wheel. You’ll not only be keeping yourself and your passengers safe, but you’ll also be setting the stage for your kids to have safe driving habits for life.

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