Teen drivers are high risk. According to the CDC:
- In 2015, 2,333 teens in the United States ages 16–19 were killed and 221,313 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes in 2014.1 That means that six teens ages 16–19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries.
- In 2013, young people ages 15-19 represented only 7% of the U.S. population. However, they accounted for 11% ($10 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries.
Out of five kids, we’ve only had one who was interested in driving. Derek decided it wasn’t worth the cost ($1000 every six months for auto insurance in New York for a teenager!). Kyle has Down syndrome, which precluded him from even considering it. Anika and Parker are both planning to live in big cities with public transportation and Lyft (welcome to Generation Z). But Kira couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel.
Here’s what we did to keep her safe and alive when she was a teen:
1. No Cell Phones
When Kira started driving, cell phones were far more popular than cars with Bluetooth. Our rule was: no phone. Phone gets used while driving, you don’t drive. Period. Now, the new iPhone has an app that texts a person back and says, “I’m driving with Do Not Disturb While Driving turned on. I’ll see your message when I get where I’m going,” making it even easier for parents to ensure teens leave their phones alone while behind the wheel.
2. Practice with an Adult
Kira received her permit in Boise, where they require 50 hours of practice driving with a supervising adult. Lots of parents we knew just signed off and said their kid did the hours. We did every single minute of practice driving with Kira – from hours of driving around the circle in our neighborhood to short trips to the store to longer and scarier freeway experiences. By the time Kira drove on her own for the first time, she was quite practiced.
3. No Friends in the Car
We were those parents – the ones who wouldn’t allow our kids in the car with other kids and wouldn’t allow our kid to drive with more than one friend (a responsible, trustworthy friend that we had met) in the car. Mostly, we let Kira drive to and from work and to and from school.
4. Make them Be Financially Responsible
We made Kira pay her portion of the insurance and pay for her own gas. It was an important way for her to get a taste of the cost of car ownership and prepared her for when she finally bought her first car.
5. No Driving without Seat Belts Ever
This was our hard-and-fast rule, not only when Kira drove but every single time we got in the car. No matter who rode with us, no matter how short the trip, the car didn’t get put in drive until every single person’s seat belt was buckled. To this day, Kira insists on it when she has passengers.
No teenager is 100% safe on the road. There are other drivers out there. The first wreck Kira was ever in was caused by an 18-wheeler changing lanes into the side of her car and totaling it. But because she’d had practice behind the wheel, because she was wearing her seat belt, and because she wasn’t distracted, she was able to survive the accident with minor injuries.
Now, Kira is a great driver and one of the few people besides Dave that I’m completely comfortable with as a passenger. But it started with good driving habits when she was a teenager.