Helping your teen driver learn to Drive Smart

teaching teen driver
Sixty percent of all vehicle crashes are caused by distracted teenage drivers. The stakes are high – but there are a number of things parents can do to prepare their children to learn to drive and help them learn safe driving habits.

Model good driving behaviors

The day you turn your child’s car seat from rear facing to front facing is the day you start teaching your child how to be a safe driver. Our kids can be observant little sponges, so start modeling good driving behavior no matter what their age.

Years of watching mom and dad eat, text, check emails, etc. while driving are hard to replace with a few lectures on distracted driving. Be the role model for how you want your child to behave when he or she is driving. (Bonus – you’ll be keeping you and your family safer in the meantime!) In fact, invite your child to hold you accountable as a safe driver. Teach them to offer to do tasks for you and free you up to focus solely on the road.

It’s not just cell phones

Fifteen percent of teen distracted driving accidents are related to the driver attending to the other passengers in the car — sometimes just talking.

Anything that takes eyes, hands, or focus off the road is a distraction. Dangerous behaviors can include activities like eating or drinking, looking for something in the vehicle, and using an electronic device for music.

Remind your teen that their interactions with others in the car can be incredibly distracting, even if it doesn’t seem like it to them.

Furthermore, encourage your child to be a part of the solution when they’re a passenger. Remind them to avoid engaging the driver in distracting conversations and activities. They can also offer to adjust the AC, answer calls or send texts for the driver so he or she can focus on driving. Discuss the Ride Smart tip sheet with all family members and families of your children’s friends to assure a safer ride no matter who drives your children.

Know the law

Michigan has a graduated license system. There is a reason the restrictions in the graduated license system were created – to protect teens while they’re learning to drive by ensuring they are learning in optimal situations.

Don’t let your child tell you that no one follows those rules. If your teen is driving without an authorized adult, the rules for a Level 2 license are:

  • May not operate a vehicle between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am, except when driving to and from work or another authorized activity (such as school-related activity).
  • May not have more than one passenger in the vehicle who is less than 21 years old unless those youth are immediate family members.
  • May not use a mobile phone (no texting, no calling, no answering incoming calls).

Kohl's Drive SmartCommunication is key

Don’t solely rely on driver education to teach your child about safe driving practices. Talk to him or her about your expectations and the consequences for not following the rules.

We have developed a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement that can help you jumpstart a conversation on distracted driving. The agreement is a great excuse to have a real conversation with your teen driver. Don’t just sign it and move on – go over it in detail with your new driver and customize it to your teen’s situation.

Like most topics, this is not a one-time conversation. Revisit the topic frequently. Discuss the importance of being a safe, focused driver.

Teaching a child to drive is similar to many other lessons we instill in our children in that it’s easier to learn good behaviors than to change bad ones. So, start early with modeling good behaviors and helping your kids learn how to stay distraction-free while driving BEFORE they hit the road as a new driver.

Take the next steps:

beth costelloBeth Costello, MBA, manages the Kohl’s Drive Smart grant-funded program for distracted driving prevention, within the Pediatric Trauma Program at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Ms. Costello partners with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in program development, and works closely with Michigan coalitions.



mott blog - logo thumbUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.