How to help your teenager to become a Safe Driver

RoadDriver is well aware that this article can appear long winded and for some possibly draconian. But, if our advice is adhered to, it will not only help safeguard your teenager, it will help reduce the futile waste of young lives.  

Parents' often feel a mixture of pride and apprehension when their son or daughter passes their driving test. For most parents this is a daunting time. Your child wants the freedom a car would bring and all you can see is the dangers ahead of them. They want the independence and thrill of the open road and you worry where this newly discovered independence will lead.

In the first year of driving, one driver in five is involved in a crash; sadly, hardly a day goes by without some terrible news headline detailing the deaths and injuries of teenagers caught up in road accidents.

A collision is not an accident!
When someone is injured on the road or involved in a vehicle collision we tend to say that he or she was in a car accident. An [accident] is generally unpredictable and out of our control. However, road safety research has proven that most accidents [collisions] could have been avoided or prevented had circumstances leading up to the accident been recognised, and acted on before the event.


  • One in five new drivers are involved in a car accident within the first six months of passing their test.
  • A third of all car accidents happen within 3 miles of home.
  • Traffic accidents are the biggest killer of young people between the age of 17 and 24yrs, far more than any other reason.
  • Since the year 2000, 4,200 young drivers have died in the UK.  Also during this time period young drivers have been responsible for many thousands of seriously injured people.
  • Male 17-20 year olds are ten times more likely to crash than 35 yr old males with the risk multiplying considerably during the hours of midnight and 5am.
  • The risk of an accident for 17-20 year olds increases by 45% with every passenger on-board.
  • Statistics show that 40% of passengers killed or seriously injured in 2008 were being driven by a young driver.
  • Research has also shown that seat belt use decreases the higher the car occupancy particularly among young teenagers, this may explain the high casualty figures for passengers.
  • In the UK the leading cause of deaths among teenage girls is as passengers in car accidents usually driven by their boyfriends.

How can I help keep my teenager safe?
As 95% of all crashes involve human error; it is important for a parent to exert influence over their teenager's attitude to driving. Our advice looks at some of the ways in which you can help your teenager to become a safe and responsible driver.

Take Responsibility
The most important step that any parent can take to help protect their teenager is to Take Responsibility and to be Pro-active well before your teenager starts to learn to drive. Too many parents abdicate their responsibility at this crucial time in their son or daughters life. For most teenagers this is their first taste of adulthood where they are responsible for not only themselves but their future passengers and the safety of other road users.

Steps you can take before your teenager applies for their provisional licence.

Most teenagers think that it is their right of passage to learn to drive, but holding a provisional licence is a very big deal and should be treated with the uppermost seriousness it deserves; after all, this is presumably the first time in your teenagers' life that they are in charge of a potentially lethal weapon.

  • Parents are in a unique position to demonstrate the qualities needed to be a safe competent driver. As with small children, teenagers learn by example, so if you want your teenager to drive safely YOU yourself need to drive in a calm and proper manner.
  • Set a good example to your teenager by always wearing your seatbelt. Drive courteously and defensively, be patient and never lose your temper. If you are an aggressive or selfish driver the likely hood is your son or daughter will mimic your driving style.
  • Learning to drive should be celebrated but also noted for its seriousness. Take an interest and help your teenager fill in the provisional licence application form.
  • It is at this early stage that you need to agree and decide on what type of car YOU are happy for your teenager to drive. This is where YOU may need to exert your parental authority. Too many parents give in to pressure to have a flash car with an oversized engine. This is particularly true of young men who see a car as a representation of who they are as a young man. A small two door car is an ideal first car (two doors as it discourages passengers). Remember it is not the amount of money you spend on a car that is important; it is the type of car. You should be looking for a small first time driver car that does not encourage speed.
  • Set firm rules as a precondition to your teenager being able to learn to drive. A written agreement or safety pledge should be entered into with regard to seat belt wearing, speeding, drink and drug driving, mobile phone use, loud music, passenger carrying, restricted area driving and driving time curfews. Also the responsibility for basic car maintenance such as regular tyre pressure checks, engine oil, coolant and windscreen wash checks. (See Safety Pledge Tips and Advice Article No67)
  • Predetermine the driving rules. In other words tell them what you expect of them and their behaviour. For example, their attitude to learning and how you expect them to react to criticism and the frustrations of learning to drive.
  • Discuss with your teenager who is best suited to teach them, it maybe Mum or Dad or a Driving School or a combination of all three.
  • If it is to be Mum or Dad it may well be worth enrolling on a refresher course or an advanced driver's course to iron out any bad habits that you may have picked up along the way. We recommend you visit the Institute of advanced Motorists at:
  • Show encouragement and take an interest in how your teenager is coping with learning the Highway Code and the theory test. This will show you their inclination and understanding of road safety.
  • Spend time on choosing the right driving school, ask around for recommendations, and don't just pick the first one out of the yellow pages. Remember your aim is to find a driving school whose emphasis is on teaching your teenager safe driving skills and not on just how to pass their test. Look for a driving school who is already a member of our RoadDriver Young Driver Safety Scheme.
  • As with all professions some instructors are better than others, so talk to the driving instructor after every lesson. This will give you the opportunity to gauge how your teenager is progressing and to discover whether the instructor is reinforcing the importance of learning to drive safely. Remember you are the paying client, if you have any doubts, sort it out or change the driving school.
  • Some young people think they are invincible, to counteract this view it's a good idea to point out road accidents covered in the media involving their peer group. This will highlight the dangers of driving and add weight to the drive safely message.
  • If your son or daughter is to be a passenger in a car driven by a young driver, always insist that everyone wears their safety belt and set a curfew time for your son or daughter to be at home. (Most accidents involving young people happen at night, particularly in the rain).
  • Don't be scared to be branded old-fashioned or an interfering busybody, it may just save your child's life. Many parents who have lost teenagers knew that their son or daughters friends were less than perfect drivers but were reluctant to say anything, so let the driver know that you expect him or her to drive sensibly and to look after your loved ones.
  • Once your teenager has passed their test, reinforce good driving behaviour by joining our Young Driver Monitoring Safety Scheme. Similar schemes around the world have helped cut death rates and accidents among young people. (RoadDriver Young Driver Safety Scheme)

Steps that can be taken after they have passed their test

Although technically they can now legally drive, for those parents who took an interest and controlled how their teenagers learnt to drive, they can now dictate how their teenager is going to drive by setting rules and conditions. If you followed our previous advice it should not come as a surprise to your teenager that you now want to set the ground rules in order for them to drive independently.

Even though your son or daughter has demonstrated sufficient skill to pass the official DSA driving test, you should not allow your teenager to drive independently until you are comfortable with both their driving attitude and their level of driving skill.

All young drivers start out with very little knowledge or understanding of the complexities of driving a motor vehicle. Like any other skill, learning to drive well takes a lot of time. Technical ability, good judgment and experience are all needed to properly make the many continuous decisions, large and small, that add up to safe driving.

Peer pressure often encourages risk taking, while adolescent impulsiveness is a natural behaviour, it can result in poor driving judgment. With young passengers on-board, the likely hood of taking part in high-risk behaviours such as speeding, inattention, drinking and driving, and not using seatbelts increase dramatically.

You need to talk frankly with your son and daughter about the dangers and risks of distractions such as loud music, eating food and using mobile phones. Parents should also discuss and demonstrate the importance of controlling emotions while driving, (being upset or stroppy is not the best frame of mind in which to drive).

Parents also need to bear in mind that apart from those driving schools that are part of the RoadDriver's New Driver Safety Scheme, many driving schools teach pupils solely how to pass the DSA driving test and not how to drive safely and defensively. We recommend you show your son or daughter how to drive defensively especially as inexperienced drivers often concentrate on the dexterity of using the controls and fail to anticipate the human actions and mistakes of other drivers. (See our Tips and Advice article No48 on defensive driving)

Parents should reinforce the message that it is a privilege to drive a car and that privilege can be taken away if they drive irresponsibly.  It is important that parents establish clear rules for safe and responsible driving and rules for the use of the car.

Parents need to consider the following advice when teenagers begin driving independently

  • It is incredibly important that Parents should not allow young drivers unrestricted driving privileges, certainly not until they have gained enough safe driving experience. 
  • Parents should limit their teenagers from driving in adverse weather until they have enough skills and experience. For example, rain, snow, ice, and fog.
  • Driving under the influence of drink or drugs is both dangerous and illegal. If an infringement is encountered, confiscation of driving privileges should be automatic.
  • Fatigue or exhaustion can be deadly; if you believe that your son or daughter has had insufficient sleep, then they should not drive. Teenage physical and biological changes, coupled with academic pressures, extracurricular activities, computers, play stations and early academic start times conspire to keep teenagers from their sleep. Lack of sleep leads to drowsiness which impairs judgment, vision, hand-eye coordination and driver reaction times, the same as taking alcohol or drugs. Combining sleepiness with driver inexperience can be a lethal cocktail. Many fall-asleep crashes involve drivers aged 25 years or younger. Recent education research has shown that more than half of teenagers report feeling sleepy during the academic day.
  • Parents should work out when and where the teenager is allowed to drive the car. For example, to college or to a part-time job.
  • Everyone in the car must wear seatbelts at all times. Most fatalities involving passengers in rear seats are due to not wearing seatbelts.
  • As most teenage fatal car crashes happen at night, a late-night driving curfew should be seriously considered.
  • Parents should decide when and if their teenager can drive passengers. This is especially important when carrying youngsters as research has shown that the risk of an accident increases by 45% with every passenger.  
  • Parents should predetermine what behaviour or circumstances will result in the loss of their son or daughters driving privileges and stick to it.
  • If you believe that your son or daughter has had insufficient sleep, then they should not drive.
  • iPod or similar headphones should never be worn while driving.
  • Parents need to restrict the use of very loud in car music systems.
  • Mobile phone use including hands free units in the car except in an emergency situation should be discouraged.
  • tyd4_pass_plus.jpgTeenagers should be encouraged to take the Pass Plus course. 

You can help make your Teenager a Safe Driver

Tips and Advice Article No.65 RoadDriver 2010

How to help your teenager to become a Safe Driver How to help your teenager to become a Safe Driver How to help your teenager to become a Safe Driver

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