Defensive driving is safe driving, and one of the main components of defensive driving is remaining alert and focused behind the wheel. Distracted driving has quickly become one of the most destructive dangers on the road today—accounting for 3,450 deaths in 2016. However, distractions are numerous for new, inexperienced teen drivers. Adjusting the air conditioning, flipping the radio, eating, and of course using a cell phone are all distractions that can turn a joyride into a lethal crash.
While parents understand the importance of teens staying alert and focused with eyes on the road, teen drivers may not always be so certain of the dangers of distracted driving. Almost all of today’s teens have a smartphone, and this convenient communications tool has become the gateway to their social world. But the tether of the phone is tight, and many teens might not realize the distractive draw of those devices.
Not only do nearly 100 percent of teens have a smartphone, but many of them also suffer from digital addiction. A survey by Common Sense Media revealed that half of teens considered their phones an addiction and 78 percent of teens were peeking at those screens each hour. That digital distraction is frustrating when it’s taking away from family time or schoolwork, but behind the wheel the phone becomes an entirely different beast.
Distracted driving is an epidemic, and the prevalence of digital convenience has likely perpetuated this epidemic. However, parents can and should be the guardians of safety. And this means helping teens understand how one call, one text, one glance down can change everything and, quite possibly, even end their lives.
A driving contract serves as a written agreement between young drivers and their parents about the roles, rights and responsibilities of maintaining the privilege of driving. While parents can create their own unique outline for the contract, there are many points that must be included:
✓ Rules of the Road
The highways and roads can be crazy to navigate when you’re young and inexperienced—and this isn’t just about directions or finding a destination. Some drivers are extremely aggressive on the road, and teens need to know how to safely handle these types of road rage situations.
Teens should never be aggressive on the road, instigate another driver or engage in any activities on the road that could endanger the lives or safety of others. Teach them what to do if another driver is following too close or threatening them in any way.
This part of the contract also might stipulate situations where a teen is denied driving privileges, like hazardous weather or during late evening hours. Late-night driving or poor weather might be too much for a new driver to handle solo.
✓ Distracted Driving & Drinking and Driving
Every driving contract should feature information about distracted driving and drinking and driving. Teens must know–and the contract needs to enforce–that it is NEVER safe to drive while under the influence of any amount of drugs or alcohol. And teens also must NEVER let a friend who has been drinking or using any illegal drugs get behind the wheel!
Be sure also to outline the rules for cell phone use while driving. No texting, no talking, no web surfing. Many parents find that using technology that locks down the phone during drive-time helps take the temptation away from tech-influenced teens. Before you use any technology, talk to them first and make sure they know about the technology and how it works. Focus by TeenDrive, for example, is easy to install and is activated once a teen gets behind the wheel. No need to rely on your new teen driver to remember to turn it on!
While parents can lock down a cell phone, they can’t control other distractions like eating or fidgeting with controls. Talk about the importance of defensive driving and how to maintain focus while navigating the road, because even one quick glance down can lead to a crash.
Every violation of a teen’s driving contract should be met with a consequence. Parents need to decide what those consequences will be and the severity of the punishment. If a teen was caught speeding, maybe they lose the keys for a week and pay the ticket price. A crash from a distraction should warrant more severe consequences, however. Spell out the consequences of every violation. Some parents decide to give young drivers a ‘three strike’ rule. After three contract violations, the keys are taken away and the driving privileges revoked.
✓ Beyond the Contract
There are some things that driving contracts won’t cover, but it’s important that parents discuss these items with teens. One of the most important points to remember about being a safe driver is remembering to keep proper documentations in the car. Every teen driver must know what documents to keep on hand in case of a crash on the road. Parents need to show teens all the vehicle’s legal documents and where to store them. Make sure teens know that they always need their driver’s license, proof of insurance and registration in the car at all times. In case of a crash, instruct teens to never admit fault and to never, ever leave the scene of a crash.
Teens also can and should be rewarded for making good choices and being safe on the road. Create a reward system that allows teens to earn more driving freedom. A year of no traffic stops, crashes or other mishaps may mean more freedom. Ultimately, though, parents should create a rewards system that works for their young driver and the family. While rewards shouldn’t necessarily be outlined in the driving contract, parents can make a separate document that details the rewards for safe driving.
While parents can create their own driver’s contract for teens, they also can use the free printable driver’s contract provided below. Review the terms of the contract with your young driver, have them sign it and print copies for reference. Creating a driving contract paves the way for safe driving and smart choices on the road. Don’t let your teens hit the road without signing their contract!