Teenage girl holding keys

12 Safe Driving Tips for Teenage Drivers

Year after year, motor vehicle accidents continue to take the lives of thousands of U.S. teens. That’s why it’s vital for young people to treat driving as a privilege that comes with great responsibility.

To bring attention to these startling statistics and help parents teach teens safe driving habits, Mercury created the Drive Safe Challenge. The Drive Safe Challenge champions not only safe driving but provides education as well, helping young people understand traffic laws and the importance of proper car maintenance, while also offering tips on how to select the right vehicle.

As part of the Mercury Insurance Drive Safe Challenge, we asked participating Mercury Insurance Drive Safe Challenge instructors and the social media community for their top tips for teen drivers.

1. Get to Know your Car

Once you have your license, it’s easy to want to get behind the wheel, start the ignition and take off before understanding all of the vehicle’s controls. Before you operate your car, we recommend that as a first step you read the owner’s manual. This will help inform how the vehicle functions and what the lights on the dashboard and instrument panel signal. Some vehicles come with a quick reference guide for the more important features and functions to make the task of learning easier.

As a best practice, we also recommend investing some time to learn basic car maintenance, too. Open the hood and check the oil levels, locate the toolkit and jack, learn how to change a tire, check the pressure and measure tire tread depths. Your teen’s vehicle should also have a vehicle emergency kit. The time you invest here could benefit your teen greatly in the future should he or she have troubles on the road.

2. Adjust your Driver Settings

Before you get moving, get situated and establish a pre-start car routine. Make sure your feet easily reach the pedals without your knees touching the dash. Position your seat so you can easily operate the accelerator and brake pedals without having to lift your heels from the floor. Also, adjust your seat height to ensure you have an unobstructed view of the road.

Adjust the rearview and outside mirrors to gain the largest field of view and remove as many blind spots as possible. Proper position will allow greater steering control as well as increased vision around your vehicle.

3. Remove Distractions

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, most crashes are the result of distracted drivers. Distractions such as drowsiness, noisy or overly active passengers, eating and multi-tasking will all result in unsafe driving conditions. Reduce or remove these types of distractions while on the road so you can focus on keeping yourself and your passengers safe while driving.

It’s no secret that technology plays a major role in distracted driving and potential accidents. Keep in mind there isn’t a call, text, song or social media post that’s worth putting your safety in jeopardy. Put your phone down and set it do not disturb mode before getting on the road. If there’s an emergency and you must make a call, safely pull to the side of the road.

Keep your eyes scanning well down the road and watchful of possible hazards from the roadsides as well. Also, note what’s immediately ahead of you to better anticipate what’s coming up next. If you’re fiddling with the radio or checking a text, your response time to make a quick stop, slow down or switch lanes will be seriously impeded. Looking forward also gives you time to plan for an impending emergency situation.

4. Maintain Distance and Remain Cognizant of Speed

Rear-end collisions make up a substantial portion of total injury crashes.  Following too closely behind a car hinders your ability to come to a full stop without a collision and limits your sightlines and ability to anticipate what’s coming. Instead, allow plenty of space to break or change lanes if needed.

Understanding what’s behind or around your car is just as important. Use your rear view and door mirrors every 15 to 30 seconds to quickly detect and respond to hazards, and always check your blind spots before changing lanes. Knowing what’s around your car in addition to what’s ahead will make you a more proactive driver.

Speeding results in countless fatalities each year. In addition to breaking the law, the consequences of speeding can be much more severe. When you speed, you risk loss of vehicle control and the ability to mitigate crash severity if you do experience a collision. Always remain cognizant of the speed limit on the road you’re traveling.

5. Establish  Pre-Start Car Routine

Before starting the car, adjust mirrors and driving position and be sure that everyone in the vehicle fastens their safety belts. Whether it’s perceived peer pressure or a feeling of invincibility, teenagers generally wear seatbelts less than any other group. So make seatbelt use a priority and a condition that must be met for your teen to drive.

6. Practice. Practice. Practice

Young drivers can never get too much practice, so let your teen drive as much as possible after getting a learner’s permit. If you’re going to the store, school, soccer practice or wherever, let your teen get behind the wheel with you in the car.

7. Keep Calm

Teaching your teen to drive can push even the most patient parents over the edge, but it’s very important to never overreact while your teen is driving. Studies have shown that an emotionally charged conversation compromises driving performance, reduces attention span and increases distraction. If your child does something wrong on the road, make a mental note to discuss it when you get home or, if you feel that the problem is serious enough, pull over and you can drive home.

8. Driving with Friends

Many states have provisional licensing laws, which means a driver’s privileges increases as they gain more years behind the wheel. If teens have a provisional license, which is in effect for the first 12 months of driving or until turning 18 (whichever comes first), they cannot carry other passengers unless they are over 20 years old and they are not allowed to drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Does it work? Yes. Teen motor fatalities decreased 13% and at-fault rate of fatal accidents dropped 14%1 when California implemented a graduated driver licensing law, which applies to 16 and 17 year olds.

9. Don't Drink & Drive

Let’s keep this simple. Drinking or getting high and driving is a death wish. Demand that your teen never drink and drive or ride with anyone who has been drinking or using drugs. There were 10,265 alcohol-related fatalities in 2013 – 29% of all traffic fatalities – which averages about one death every 51 minutes.2

10. Talk to Your Teen While Driving

Take every opportunity to educate your teen while travelling together. Turn off the radio and talk about hazards you encounter. Some common themes may include watching downhill speed, spotting trouble ahead, braking sooner rather than later and watching the driving behavior of other cars. Remember, parents are primary role models for teens, especially as they learn how to drive.

11. Burgers, Instagram, & Texting Can Wait

Driving requires complete focus and concentration, especially for new drivers. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Association study, teens 15 to 19 years old are involved in 10% of distracted driving crash fatalities.3 That means no cell phones, no texting, no putting on make-up, no eating and no playing with the smartphone to find a favorite song.

12. Limit Nighttime Driving

Limit driving to daylight hours when teens first begin to drive. The nighttime accident rate for teen drivers is about three times as high as the daytime rate.4

1Californian Journal of Health Promotion 2006, California’s Graduated Driver License Law: Effects on Older Teenagers
2NHTSA, 2013 Traffic Safety Facts, Alcohol-Impaired Driving
3NHTSA, Teens Distracted Driving Data 2013
4NHTSA, Teen Drivers – Parents & Teens, Retrieved Feb. 15, 2016 from https://www.nhtsa.gov/