Editorial: Talk to teens about safe driving behavior

More than two-thirds of parents believe their teens are safe drivers, and about three-quarters of parents think their children rarely engage in unsafe behaviors behind the wheel, according to a new survey from Allstate Insurance released Monday as part of National Teen Driver Safety Week.

Those numbers were a bit shocking to us and may also explain why the survey reveals that approximately 42 percent of parents of teen drivers don’t regularly talk to their kids about safe driving.


The goal of National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct. 21 to 27) is designed to get people talking about teen driving habits — like texting and driving, speeding and other issues that make getting behind the wheel so dangerous for young drivers. And it’s worth talking about, since automobile collisions are the leading cause of death for teens ages 16 to 23, regardless of whether they are passengers or drivers. Teenagers are also three times more likely to be involved in a fatal traffic crash than any other drivers.

For starters, parents should be mindful of their own driving habits when their children are in the car, even before children reach driving age. If they see parents who regularly exceed the speed limit, run red lights, or text while driving, it is likely that these teens will emulate those behaviors once they get their license.

One option for parents to consider is drawing up a parent-teen driving agreement before their son or daughter gets privileges to get behind the wheel. AAA Mid-Atlantic has a sample of one of these agreements on its Keys2Drive web page at, along with other tips and resources to help parents become effective in-car coaches and manage their teen's driving privileges.

Some examples of what could be included in the agreement are young drivers having to tell parents in advance where they are going, who if anyone will be passengers and when they plan to return. There is also a section where parents and their teenage drivers can agree to certain consequences for driving unsafely, such as using their cellphone while driving or getting a speeding ticket.

While the written contract might seem a bit stodgy, it can actually be quite useful in spelling out clear expectations for both kids and adults.

One reason we suspect that less than half of parents regularly have conversations with their teen drivers if that they don’t want to come across as a nagging mom or dad, knowing their teen might tune them out if they do. Research has shown trying to “scare them straight” or “put the fear of God in them,” are not necessarily the best strategies, having positive conversations about driver safety to let them know you care tends to resonate.

For example, maybe casually bring up that you saw a driver texting on your way to work, and ask if they or any of their friends do so. If they say they don’t, praise them for driving safely. That’s more likely to make an impression.

But responsible teens should take charge too. If you have a friend who frequently exhibits unsafe behaviors on the road, such as speeding or texting, say something to them. It might seem like a nerdy thing to do, but you can tell them you don’t want them to have a crash or come into school one day to find out they didn’t make it because they were texting. Oftentimes, this kind of criticism means more coming from a friend or a peer than it does coming from an adult.

Use this week as an opportunity to talk about safe driving habits, but don’t limit those conversations to one week a year. We should be practicing safe driving – and talking about it – year round.