How to Prepare for Your Teen Driver

Eight ways to prepare you, your teen driver, and your vehicle for safer driving.
by Rich Ellis
Teen driver

Few milestones in raising a child are more nerve-wracking for parents than the teenager getting behind the wheel alone as a new driver. But as the inevitable march toward adulthood can’t be stopped, neither can this rite of passage. You can help ready your new driver for success and safety, and help calm your fears and worries at the same time, by equipping them with knowledge and understanding that will prove useful behind the wheel and outside the car. 

Buy or Make a Vehicle Safety/Emergency Kit

This advice applies to every driver, not just teens. Keep an emergency vehicle kit in the vehicle at all times, review it periodically, and change some of the items in it with the seasons. It’s something you might never use, but if and when your teen driver needs it, its contents will prove invaluable. Some items that the emergency kit should include are:
15-minute roadside flares
Basic hand tools
Duct tape
Can of emergency tire sealant, such as Fix-A-Flat
Flashlight and fresh batteries
Water and energy bars
Compact snow shovel
First-aid kit
Traction material, such as kitty litter, sand or a traction device

Perform Preventive Maintenance

A vehicle often represents one of your largest investments, ranking right up there with a home, retirement plan, or college savings fund. Don’t assume that your new driver knows how to protect that investment by properly caring for the vehicle or heeding critical warning signs. Instead, give them a basic course in easy, do-it-yourself vehicle maintenance by covering the following: 
Oil, coolant, and transmission fluid levels – What they do and how to check them
Tire air pressure – Why it’s important, how to check and add air to the tires
Dashboard warning lights – Illuminate all the warning lights by turning the key to on, but not starting the car. Review each light’s meaning and course of action
Window cleaning and clearing – Location and proper use of defrosters and windshield washer fluid
Vehicle cleaning – Why a cleaner vehicle is nicer to drive and improves safety with increased visibility through clean windows and clean lights

Use Monitoring Devices

Many car insurers, including, for example, Travelers, have developed in-vehicle monitoring systems that allow drivers to log into a secure website to view driver data. In addition to encouraging teens to be safer drivers, the applications provide insured drivers with annual discounts for safe driving practices and fewer miles driven.

Other portable devices, such as PocketFinder can be placed in a vehicle or carried by a person, and enable you to locate the device by viewing it on a website or via an smartphone app. The device also can be programmed to send parents an alert via text or email when a vehicle travels above a designated speed. OnStar also offers a Family Link service that enables vehicle owners to see their vehicle’s location on a map.

Download Smart Phone Apps

Nearly every mobile phone service now offers apps that can prevent their users from receiving texts, emails, and even phone calls when the app, using the smart phone’s GPS technology, senses the vehicle is in motion. Some of the apps, such as Sprint’s Drive First, can even send an automated message replying to a received text that the user is driving and will respond later. Apps can also notify parents if they are switched off. At the very least, make sure your new driver is utilizing hands-free technology.

Have Your Teen Take a Defensive Driving Course

Talking about defensive driving is one thing but actually doing it makes a much stronger and longer lasting impression on new drivers. Consider enrolling your teen in a defensive driving course that combines both in-classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction on how to be a better driver. Not only will your teen be safer while driving, but you can also receive a discount on your auto insurance and point reductions toward driving infractions.

Sign a Contract

Consider having your teen sign a safe-driving contract or parent-teen driving agreement (like this downloadable one) that outlines both your expectations and penalties for violating the agreement. 

Put Them Behind the Wheel of an Appropriate and Safe Vehicle

Driver and passenger safety begins with a safe vehicle. Before handing the keys to your teen, make sure the vehicle has been well maintained and that all its safety features are in proper working order. Do the tires have sufficient tread depth? Are all the lights functioning? The non-profit Car Care Council offers a free, downloadable guide that provides clear, concise instructions on vehicle maintenance. 
Also consider the type of vehicle you allow your teen to drive. For example, a vehicle with a manual transmission might not be suitable if they’re not skilled enough or comfortable with it, just as a large pickup or SUV probably isn’t the best choice for helping them learn how to parallel park. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides annual rankings of vehicle safety here.  

Go Online

Distracted driving is a national epidemic – not just among teen drivers – resulting in thousands of driver deaths annually. Go online to utilize the numerous, free resources available today, such as, to help teens understand the consequences of their actions and to help stop them from developing dangerous driving habits in the first place. 

It’s impossible to eliminate all the risk and worry that accompany your teenager getting behind the wheel. You can, however, help them understand the awesome responsibility they assume for their own safety, their passengers’ and other drivers’, and provide them with tools, technology and advice that help them drive smarter and safer. 

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