How Parents Can Do More to Help Teens Drive Safely

Most parents aren't doing enough to teach teens how to be good drivers.
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Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers. Driver inexperience is one of the biggest reasons young people are more likely to get into crashes. The only way to reduce that risk is for them to gain more experience behind the wheel. However, not all experience is created equal.

Most states have strict rules about how many hours teens need to practice driving with a parent or other licensed driver prior to obtaining a driver’s license. However, most states don't educate parents about teaching teens to drive. Unfortunately, many teens aren’t gaining the skills they need to become safe drivers before getting their driver’s license.

Research Says Parents Are Making Mistakes

Teens with learner’s permits have an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills before obtaining their driver’s license. However, most parents don’t take full advantage of the opportunity to help teens learn as much as possible during this crucial time, according to a 2014 study published in Accident Analysis and Prevention.

Researchers discovered that parents offer a lot of practical instruction on vehicle handling. The most common comments parents made included telling teens to slow down as they approached an intersection.

According to the study, most parents missed out on opportunities to teach teens how to recognize potential safety hazards on their own. Simply telling teens what to do didn’t necessarily translate into teachable moments.

In order to get the most out of practice behind the wheel, start a discussion with your teen about how to recognize when to apply the brakes. By explaining the cues that signal that it’s time to slow down, your teen will become more familiar with handling the vehicle and responding to road hazards independently. These types of conversations can help teens begin to understand the risks of the road.

Steps for Parents to be Good Driving Instructors

Teaching your teen necessary skills shouldn’t just be about helping your teen pass the driving test. Instead, your instructions should focus on helping your teen learn to be a safe driver. 

Before attempting to teach your teen to be a safe driver, brush up on your skills. Perhaps you’ve developed some unhealthy habits of your own, like rolling through stop signs or speeding.

Remember, it’s important to role model good driving habits so you can help your teen learn to be a good driver.

When riding as a passenger with your teen behind the wheel, focus on helping your teen learn.

  • Avoid talking on the phone or listening to the radio. Instead, place all of your attention on being a good teacher.
  • Provide plenty of feedback — both positive and negative. Discuss ways your teen can improve.
  • Turn mistakes into lessons. Help your teen find ways to prevent repeating mistakes again next time.
  • If your teen argues, don't let him continue to drive. Tell him to pull over and take over driving for him. If he has trouble regulating his emotions or gets angry behind the wheel, he likely needs to mature longer before you allow him to get his driver's license. You don't want him to lose his temper when he's driving on his own. 

Promising Results from the Teen Driving Plan Program

Look for programs that will help you become a better driving instructor. Teen Driving Plan is a program that shows parents how to best teach teens how to drive. The program provides parents with online instruction about how to create a positive learning experience for teens and it offers instruction to parents about how to teach specific driving skills.

The program also helps parents teach teens the skills they need to become safe drivers, many of which aren’t necessarily related to their road tests. For example, parents learned how to effectively teach teens to drive in thunderstorms or other adverse road conditions.

A study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that teens whose parents participated in the TDP were more likely to pass their road test. The study found that 6% of teens whose parents participated in TDP failed their driver tests, compared to 15% from the control group. Researchers plan to continue studying the program to learn whether it can decrease car accidents.

If you would like more information on how to best teach your teen driving skills, talk to your child's driver education instructor who can help provide resources to assist you in your efforts to keep your teen safe.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen Drivers: Get the Facts.

  2. Goodwin AH, Foss RD, Margolis LH, Harrell S. Parent comments and instruction during the first four months of supervised driving: an opportunity missed? Accid Anal Prev. 2014;69:15-22. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2014.02.015

  3. Jewett A, Shults RA, Bhat G. Parental perceptions of teen driving: restrictions, worry and influence. J Safety Res. 2016;59:119-123. doi:10.1016/j.jsr.2016.09.003

  4. Mirman JH, Curry AE, Winston FK, et al. Effect of the Teen Driving Plan on the Driving Performance of Teenagers Before Licensure: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(8):764-771. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.252

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.