When it comes time for your teenage son or daughter to begin driving solo, the best thing you can do to encourage safe driving is to draw up a “driving contract” that clearly spells out family rules as well as the consequences for breaking them.
What’s in a driving contract?
Driving contracts will be slightly different from one family to another, based on a number of relevant factors. But what all driving contracts should have in common are clear rules the teen drive is expected to follow with respect to the car and safety.
According to safety experts, at a very minimum, a good driving contract should cover the following points:
- Which car the teen is allowed to drive.
- Car care basics: putting gas in when needed, checking tire pressure, oil changes and other regular maintenance. In addition, include rules about keeping the car trash- and clutter-free.
- Insurance specifics: some parents find that having teens pay some portion of the car insurance helps to make them more responsible. If this is something you expect, the place to spell it out is in the driving contract.
- Safety belt use – for all occupants of the car.
- Rules about the use of cell phones for calls or texts, use of MP3s, car stereos and other electronics. Clearly state that calling and texting behind the wheel is not allowed.
- No drinking or drug use ever when driving. In addition, the contract should explicitly point out that no alcohol is permitted in the car at any time, and that the teen is not allowed to be a passenger in a car with a driver who’s been drinking or using drugs. Spell out that the teen can always call you to pick them up if they get stranded and need transportation home.
- Lay out the rules prohibiting other teens or younger siblings in the car – at least for the first six to 12 months of your teen’s getting a license. The reason for this is that other passengers are a huge distraction to the new teen driver at a time when he or she is most at risk for accidents and crashes.
- Spell out rules governing curfew and night driving. More accidents occur between the hours of 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. than during daylight hours. Set reasonable and realistic curfew hours, but also insist your teen drive safely to get home without speeding to save minutes.
- Rules about law enforcement issues – crashes, tickets and speeding.
Won’t it be tough to get teens to honor the contract?
Parents can expect some pushback from teens at a time when the new driver is eager to be out on the road behind the wheel. Having frequent discussions with teens in advance of their getting their full driver’s license and after will help make the transition easier.
Providing rewards for your teen’s honoring of the driving contract will also make it more palatable. These can include the offer to pay for a free car wash, a week’s worth of gas, a slightly extended curfew for a special event or activity, or some other reward the teen will find enticing. This gives the teen something to work toward and parents a way to show they appreciate the teen doing a good job.
Where to find teen driving contracts
A number of websites offer sample teen driving contracts available for download. Check with your auto insurance company to see if they have on in their teen driver section. Check out the driving contracts available from Liberty Mutual, I Drive Safely, AAA, and the CDC/American Academy of Pediatrics.