Editor’s note: The following is from the Safe Communities of Wright County

As a parent, I remember the anxiety of seeing my teenage daughter sitting in the driver’s seat- ready to take this step into independence. While she was ready for this exciting adventure, I was not. We spend years trying to protect our children from the dangers of the world and, while we do want to see them continue to the next stages of life, it’s tempting to wonder if they will take this huge responsibility seriously and truly understand the consequences of poor driving choices.

According to NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes. This is mainly because of their immaturity, the many distractions on the road and their lack of skills and driving experience. Too often, teen drivers speed, make errors in judgment and get easily distracted – especially if they have friends in the car.

So what can you do if you are the parent or guardian of a teen driver? First, it’s important for you to set up household rules about driving- where, when, with whom and so on. Second, talk to your teen driver about distractions and things that can influence judgment- drowsiness, phone use, emotional upsets, and substances such as drugs and or alcohol. Third, you may want to write up a contract that outlines consequences for good and bad choices. When my daughter started driving, a friend sent me an example of a driving contract that I could use for our family. This was helpful as it was a good way to explain what was expected and hold us both accountable. Finally, be a good example of what you expect. Wear your seatbelt, put down the phone, don’t drive if you are drowsy or impaired and keep your eyes on the road.

Don’t assume this conversation with your teen driver is a one and done event. Keep this discussion going as things are likely to come up and both of you may have questions along the way. Be sure to praise and reward your teen for being a good driver and example to others as well. It’s easy to focus on the mistakes and the negative but we all love to get that positive reinforcement as well.

Mona Volden, Community Engagement and Wellness Manager, Buffalo Hospital

Board member of Safe Communities of Wright County

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