1. Teach your teen that no one is to ever touch the driver: not even at a stoplight. How do you do this? You constantly and repeatedly say, “Don’t touch the driver” whenever one of your kids tries to touch the driver. Most teenage accidents are the result of a distracted driver. Kids want to fit in and have fun. A driver has to remember that, even though everyone else in the car is having fun, the driver has a dedicated duty to get everyone to the planned destination – alive.
2. Teach your teen to obey traffic signals. It’s difficult to stop at a yellow light instead of skimming on through. If you've ever scooted through a yellow (or red) light and then quipped “but it was only pink” or some other clever excuse, you were not teaching your teen this integral lesson. The one time you go through a yellow light is when you see a car barreling toward you in your rearview mirror. Once you get through the light, explain to your teen what just happened. Your teen needs to understand that rules of the road are only broken to save lives – never to risk them.
3. Teach your teen to never drive faster than visibility allows. As you make your way through fog or heavy snow, talk to your young passengers about what you’re doing. Tell them how you’re leaving more space between your car and the car in front of you to avoid a collision that works like dominoes. Tell them you have reduced your speed to account for unknown surprises (including incautious drivers) that may be lurking ahead beyond your visibility. Telling them why you are doing what you’re doing as you perform the actions allows them to learn vicariously.
4. Teach your teen to put away the cell phone and to pay attention to the road. It’s not always easy to remember that you’re in command of a 2 ton chunk of metal that will act much like a weapon in the hands of a distracted driver. But that is the lesson that must be learned. Going back to the Don’t Touch the Driver rule, impress upon your teen the importance of paying attention to the road by not messing with your cell phone or iPod (or anything else) while you're driving.
5. Teach your teen to be a good passenger. A distracted driver (with or without experience) is a road hazard. Good passengers will buy into the notion that everyone wants to arrive alive and will do their part to make this happen. Even when your children are young, they are learning the importance of keeping the trip distraction-free. All requests can be fielded by the person riding shotgun.
6. Teach your teen not to drive after drinking. First and foremost, do this yourself. Never ask your child to get into the car with you if you’ve been drinking (unless you're setting your butt down in the passenger seat). Ever. Take it one step further, let your teen know that you are always available to play taxi if there are no sober potential drivers available. And if you aren't, get the kids a taxi. The most expensive taxi ride costs less than a funeral.
7. Teach your teen to drive using baby steps. We always headed to the graveyard for the first driving lessons. (Everyone is already dead so you’ve eliminated one threat already!) Next, find a quiet country road followed by quick trips through the neighborhood. Your teen should be fairly comfortable with driving before you ever head for the freeway or a crowded mall. Make every driving experience a happy, scream-free, criticism-free one (knowing that you will probably fail once or twice with this goal).
8. Teach your teen what to do in an accident. Yes, call 911 right away – this is one of those emergencies (call mom or dad, too). Never, ever leave the site of the accident – even if the other driver speeds away. Try to get a license plate number but DO NOT MOVE THE CAR UNTIL THE POLICE ARRIVE AND INSTRUCT YOU TO DO SO. This will protect your teen’s interests while allowing the police determine what happened (i.e., establishing fault).
Teaching a teen to be an excellent driver is more about being an excellent driver, yourself. Leave the staying within the lines rules and pop quizzes for the teacher.