Dear New Drivers and Parents of New Drivers,
Is there anything more fun and/or terrifying than getting behind the wheel for the first time? Hardly!
On the one hand, parents will finally be free of the endless runs to and from soccer practice and kids can finally break free from the terrible burden of being seen in public with their parents. On the other, you have an inexperienced driver piloting a few thousand pounds of steel at up to 75 mph. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, a lot! But we think we can help stack the odds in your favor. So, we put together a new driver (aka teen driver) toolkit including a new driver contract, the latest teen driving facts and statistics, drivers ed info and other resources to help you and/or your kid prepare to be a safe and successful driver.
What's in the Teen Driving Toolkit?
New Driver (Teen Driving) Contract.We believe that new drivers and their parents should discuss safe driving topics, agree on definitions of responsible driving, and discuss the consequences of not driving responsibly. Access the editable contract: New Driver Contract
Drivers Education.There may be many in-person options for drivers education courses in your area - so many we couldn't possibly make recommendations. But you can check out our list of top online drivers ed courses to see if there's a good option for you.
Car Talk's Best Driving Advice.Over the years we've answered questions from new drivers of all ages, about everything from the basic maintenance you need to know to keep yourself safe on the road to defensive driving advice, and more.
Teen Driving Statistics.They're scary. Take a look and share with your teen / new driver if you want to drive home why all of this is important: Teen Driving Statistics
More Resources.There are many resources on the web to help you plan and prepare for a new driver. We've also identified and included several other websites that we find helpful.
New Driver Contract (for Parents and Teens)
WHY A CONTRACT?
Automobile accidents are the #1 cause of death for teenagers in America. We don't want you or anyone in your vehicle to be a statistic. So this contract is about responsible driving and the consequences of not driving responsibly. Both you as a new driver and I/we as parent(s) are on the hook to be safe drivers.
HOW DOES THE NEW DRIVER (TEEN DRIVING) CONTRACT WORK?
We've started with the areas we think are critical for new drivers to keep in mind. And, we've provided a background information to explain why we think each of these is so important.
But we know every family is different. So this is an editable document; you can cut sections that don't work for you, and add new ones that align with your priorities. We've also suggested consequences for each violation that you can take or leave.
We ask both parents and kids to initial each section, to indicate that each party understands the rationale and the consequences associated with each of these important driving topics, and both parties to sign at the bottom of the document, just for good measure.
We strongly believe that people get their bad driving habits from friends and family (“Don't drive like my brother,” anyone?) which is why we know we need to keep parents on the hook too!
Texting while driving is a clear sign that you don't have enough common sense to be behind the wheel yet. If it were up to us, we would relegate you to one of the passenger seats until your brain grows for a few more years. Unfortunately, many “real adults” are guilty of this as well.
Texting and driving takes your eyes off the road, and allows your car to drive into other things.... like trees, cars in front of you, or minivans filled with families. It's an extremely bad idea.
When you text and drive, you're eight times more likely to crash than when you're undistracted. The fact is, you'd be safer driving drunk -- and we send those drivers to jail.
And, no -- you're not an unusually gifted multi-tasker. Don't argue with us. You can't convince us texting while driving is OK. It's not.
I will not text and drive __ kid __ parent
May we also suggest:
- Parents, if you're behind the wheel, hand your phone over to your driving-age kid and demand they call up the directions for you. How else will they learn to navigate?
- All drivers put their phones on airplane mode (it saves your battery!), or in the glove compartment when you start a trip. Let the passengers handle DJ and navigation duties on their own devices.
It's very tempting to speed. It's exciting in the same way a roller coaster is exciting. Or maybe you're just in a hurry to get to that
epic party totally platonic study date at the library.
While we acknowledge the temptation to speed, we can't permit it. We know that an inexperienced driver is more likely to screw up and have an accident. And if we can't prevent that accident, our goal is to keep it from being deadly or disabling, either to you or to another innocent person.
We suggest treating speeding as two categories: “speeding” and “excessive speeding”, which most authorities define as at least 25 mph over the posted speed limit.
Speeding is bad news and is grounds for punishment or loss of privileges, in our humble opinion. It means the driver doesn't understand how quickly a loss of control can happen, and further fails to understand how speed makes an accident exponentially worse.
Excessive speeding is the sign of more serious problems: inadequate respect for the laws of physics and a blatant disregard for reasonable ground rules, both of which tell us this driver lacks the necessary maturity required to be behind the wheel.
Obviously, speeding tickets and warnings from police officers are admissible evidence. But we also suggest including credible reports from friends and neighbors who may witness signs of trouble before you do.
I will not drive over the speed limit __ kid __ parent
MUSIC, PHONE CALLS & OTHER DISTRACTIONS
At 60 mph, a car moves a whopping 88 feet each second. That's a football field in three and a half seconds. A lot can happen when your attention isn't 100% on the road.
We suggest loading your directions and adjusting your music before driving off. There's no harm waiting until the trip is over (or until pulling over) to return any missed calls.
One other note: Everybody likes to crank up the tunes, but we think it's right to set limits on excessively loud music, which can interfere with the ability to hear horns, emergency vehicles, and the terrified screams of your passengers.
I will not drive distracted. This includes making calls, checking social media or playing loud music while behind the wheel. __Kid __ parent
We know how an unchecked group of kids can egg each other on into bad behavior. (If this is new information for you, we suggest you check out “Lord of the Flies” from your local library.) In a driving context, the end result is often speeding, risk taking, getting distracted, and breaking rules.
Many states have rules about how many passengers a new driver can carry. But you should discuss your own rules, such as when it's permissible to have passengers at all, who is allowed, and how many people your kid can drive at once.
DRINKING, DRIVING & DRUGS
There's no excuse for using drugs or drinking before you drive. Ever. You know this and we know this. Being impaired while driving not only takes the driver's life into intoxicated hands, but also the lives of passengers and other innocent people on the road.
Here, too, we'd suggest that information from friends, family and neighbors be considered admissible evidence, and we suggest the direst consequences.
I will not drive after using any controlled substances. And I understand that beer is a dangerous controlled substance. __Kid __ parent
Is there anyone left who still disputes the importance of wearing a seatbelt every single time you get in the vehicle, no matter how short the distance? We hope not.
Buckle up every time you get behind the wheel. If you want to know just how important it is, ask your local EMT to show you a "star" on a windshield. Then ask how it got there. Then think about what kind of headache that would cause.
I (parent) will always wear my seatbelt and insist passengers do the same. __parent
I (kid) will always wear my seatbelt and insist passengers do the same. __kid
I will always wear my seatbelt when I am a passenger, no matter who is driving. __kid __ parent
Car Talk soapbox note:
Many people risk their lives by not wearing seatbelts in backseats of taxis, Ubers,Llyfts, etc. And you're not only jeopardizing your own safety; you're putting the person in front of you at risk too. (Who do you think will take the impact of you flying forward out of your seat at 60mph? And what do you weigh again? Those are not good odds for whoever's in front of you.) Remember folks, physics still apply in rideshares and hired cars. Regardless of who's driving, just wear your seatbelt already.
TIME OF DAY
We all know that the later it is, the more likely it is for a kid to be doing something he or she is not supposed to be doing. Why? We don't know. But we know it was true for us! Pick a sensible curfew for your teen if you don't already have one. Driving at night is dangerous across all demographics; it's harder to see, people tend to be tired. Combine this with the propensity to make bad decisions, and you see where we're going with this.
__ I agree to be home by ______pm any time I am out with friends. __kid
__ I agree not to drive or ride in a car driven by another young driver after ______pm. __kid
Everyone has them. We've all seen the youtube videos of overgrown man-babies punching each other out on the freeway because one of them cut the other one off in bumper to bumper traffic. Don't drive if you're in an emotionally charged state.
If you're feeling too angry to drive, pull over you calm down. (We recommend first running through all the forbidden words you know, at high volume, and then doing some deep breathing exercises.)
__ I agree never to exercise road rage __kid
__ I agree never to exercise road rage __parent
OTHER CONDITIONS TO DRIVING PRIVILEGES
Parents: Please determine what you think is appropriate here, and feel free to add as necessary.
Driving is a privilege. It's easy for a kid to get distracted by this new privilege and all the new freedoms it creates. So if you're a family that puts a premium on good grades and education, feel free to use driving privileges as a lever to maintain good academic performance.
__ I understand that failing to maintain a ______ GPA means losing or restricting my driving privileges. __kid
A number of digital technologies exist to monitor driving habits, including apps for phones and devices that plug directly into your car. If you plan to use one of these, we suggest you let your kid know. Monitoring in secret will damage your kid's trust in you when they figure it out, but open surveillance can be a powerful motivator to toe the line.
__ I understand that my parent(s) may require apps or devices to monitor my safe driving. I agree not to disable or remove these. __kid
GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD
We all get into situations where we're out of our depth. Life happens. Sometimes a (relatively) consequence-free escape route can make the difference between a merely bad decision and a terrible, possibly fatal one.
Some scenarios we can imagine:
- Say they've decided to drink, and now realize they have to get home somehow. Can they call you and get a ride without fear of overly punitive measures?
- Can they call you for a ride if the weather has turned unexpectedly and they feel like they're out of their depth, skill-wise, without you getting all uptight about it?
- Can they call you if their ride has been drinking, without feeling like you're going to call every parent in the neighborhood (aka torpedo their social life as they know it).
Obviously any one of these situations is going to produce a bunch more conversations and some serious soul searching. But wouldn't it be better to get the opportunity to have that conversation?
__ I/we agree to keep the lifeline open for you. If you make a mistake and need our help to avoid driving dangerously, you can call me/us at any time. __Parent
Teen Driving Facts and Statistics
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds, causing roughly one-third of all deaths for this age group. Teenagers are overrepresented in traffic crashes both as drivers and as passengers. The high crash-involvement rate for this age group is caused primarily by their lack of maturity and driving experience coupled with their overconfidence and risk-taking behaviors. High-risk behaviors include failure to wear safety belts, speeding, driving while impaired (by alcohol or other drugs) and drowsy or distracted driving. This age group is particularly susceptible to distractions caused by other passengers in the vehicle, electronic devices and music.
Here are the stats any new driver and his/her parents should know about:
- In 2017, 1,830 15 - 20-year-old drivers were killed in motor vehicle crashes. (1)
- In 2017, 24 percent of 15- to 20-year-old drivers who were killed in crashes had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08g/dL or higher. (1)
- Drivers are less likely to use their seatbelts when they have been drinking. In 2017, 42 percent of the young drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes who had been drinking were unrestrained. (1)
- In 2017, 31 percent of the male drivers ages 15 to 20 who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash. (1)
- The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers; the risk increases with the number of teen passengers. (2)
- The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, these teen drivers are three times more likely than older drivers to crash. (2)
- Crash risk is particularly high during the first year that teenagers are eligible to drive. (2)
- Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and allow shorter headways (the distance from the front of one vehicle to the back of the next). (2)
- In recent studies, almost half of teen deaths from motor vehicle crashes occurred between 3 p.m. and midnight and 53 percent occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
- Young Drivers, Traffic Safety Facts, 2017 Data, NHTSA's National Center for Statistics and Analysis, DOT HS 812 753.
- Teen Drivers: Centers for Disease Control
What Parents Can Do:
Parents should be aware that their active support and awareness, including helping with skill building and making driver education available, are critical to helping reduce injuries and fatalities among teens.
If you're like most parents of a teenager, chances are that the process for getting a license in your state has changed a bit - for the better - since you first got your license. Instead of suffering through long wait times at the DMV (and, maybe, building character?), teens in many states now have the option of getting started online.
Once you and your teenager have checked off enough boxes and are ready to take the first steps in getting prepared for the road, it's worthwhile to see if approved online options are available in your state; currently, about half of the United States population has access to some type of approved online option for teens. If you're lucky enough to live in one of these states (listed below), approved options for teen drivers ed are currently available:
Teen Driving Q&A
HOW TO CHOOSE A CAR FOR A TEENAGE DRIVER (our humble opinion)
Over the years we've offered our (frequently unsolicited) opinion about the best and worst cars for new drivers. Generally, we recommend finding a used car that is on the slower and safer end of the spectrum. A car that is in a word, boring.
Slower, because young drivers tend to speed. Safer, because, well, we hope this one is obvious. While lane departure warning systems, automated braking, blind-spot detection, etc. are all great, we can't in good conscience recommend buying a brand new car for someone who's likely to back it through your garage door before the ink is even dry on their new license! Anything built in the last 10 - 15 years should fit the bill. (On that note: We've known a few kids here and there who've been devoted to the idea of tooling around in a VW Bus, or fixing up Uncle Herb's Nash Rambler and driving it to school. We'd suggest you put the kibosh on any such plans. Cars that old are less safe (no airbags, no traction control, no ABS) are a lot more difficult to drive; they don't handle as well, they're slower to stop, and they're more likely to break down and leave your kid stranded. We think learning to drive is hard enough without any added degree of difficulty.)
Minivans, station wagons, and older sedans are perfect for this purpose. We know SUVs have made great strides since they were first introduced (back when they tended to roll over at the bat of an eye) but overall they still roll at higher rates than other vehicle types. You can check the safety ratings for any car you're interested in here: https://www.nhtsa.gov/ratings
Remember: Kids are born to test limits, so don't get them a car that doesn't have any.
Car Talk's Best Safe Driving Advice
- Official Guide to Civil Driving
- How to Select the Right Driver's Ed Course
- Summer Driving Tips
- Winter Driving Tips
- Avoiding the Blind Spot
- How to Jump-Start Your Car
- How to Change a Flat Tire
Resources from Other Places
Yes, there are other websites beyond www.cartalk.com! A handful stand out to us for their well-researched, reliable advice for new drivers and their parents. Plus their useful [lies damn lies and] statistics. See below.