Most teens want to hit the open road the second they get their driver’s license. But a growing body of evidence suggests it’s important to put limits on when, where and with how many friends they drive.
Those restrictions can dramatically reduce the chances that teen drivers—the most crash-prone age group around—will get into an accident, says Angela Eichelberger, a research scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). “[Adults] need to remember that they have the keys,” she says. “They have the power to set the limits.”
But what restrictions are the most important and how do parents go about enforcing them? Here are some tips from the experts at the IIHS.
Know the Law
Many states have graduated licensing systems, which limit when teens can drive and how many passengers they can have in their car. Eichelberger says parents should know those rules and enforce them. But they shouldn’t necessarily stop there. “Parents can always take it a step further,” she adds. To make the process easier, refer to the handy state-by-state guide to license restrictions the IIHS has put together.
Restrict Driving at Night
About 40 percent of all fatal teen crashes happen at night, according to the IIHS, which is why it’s important to limit how much driving teens do after sunset. Most states have a curfew for teen drivers, with the strictest starting at 8 p.m. But some don’t kick in until after midnight. If parents live in one of those states, the IIHS says they might want to consider setting an earlier cutoff time.
Limit the Number of Teenage Passengers
Studies have shown that the more teens there are in a car, the higher the chances of a crash. That’s because rowdy passengers can distract young drivers, and sometimes even goad them into taking chances. The IIHS recommends parents bar other teens from their child’s car. “Generally, we recommend there be no teen passengers,” says Eichelberger. “That’s the safest.”
Go Back to Basics
While some road rules may seem obvious—no drinking and driving, no texting while behind the wheel, always buckle up—many teens have a tendency to throw caution to the wind. (Most teens killed in crashes are not wearing seatbelts.) The IIHS recommends parents emphasize the importance of being a law-abiding driver.
Communicate the Rules Clearly
Often, parents set limits for their teens, but at least one study from the University of Michigan shows the rules sometimes fall on deaf ears. In some cases, “parents may not have made all of their expectations clear,” says Eichelberger. That’s why it’s important they have a serious conversation with their kids about driving restrictions and outline what will happen if teens flout the rules.
Follow Through on Punishments
If teens break the rules, it’s important there be consequences, says Eichelberger. Among the most effective: revoking driving privileges. “Parents control the keys,” she concludes.
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By Andrew Raven