10 Essential Rules Parents Must Demand from Their Teenage Drivers

I’ve been driving professionally in one form or another since I was barely old enough to see over a steering wheel.  I was fourteen years old when my mom said it was time for me to get a job after school, and I applied at a trucking company to wash trucks and lied about my age.  (This was fifty years ago.) 

Learning to Drive With Big Rigs

A smiling truck driver behind the wheel of a big rig.
Semi, tractor trailer

Washing the trucks was easy, but the mechanics were way too busy to move them around for me so that I could wash more than one or two at a time. They gave me a quick lesson, and after a few horrifying attempts to move the rigs, I became pretty good at flipping trucks all over the yard. 

By the time I turned sixteen and old enough to get my driver’s license,  I had been driving those trucks around the yards every week for two years and found transitioning to a car a breeze.

The Love of Driving

Woman dancing to her car radio.
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From the time I got my driver’s license till today, I loved driving.  Nothing beats the feel of the open road and the freedom of hitting America’s scenic routes and destinations. I loved it so much that I took driving jobs my whole life and eventually started a small trucking company of my own.  

It’s funny; I never considered driving anything more than a wonderful experience.

Until I Witnessed My First Fatal Accident

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It was a cold, blustery Sunday afternoon in Chicago. My mom called and said she’d buy us Chinese food from our favorite take-out place if I would get it.  Well, let me tell you, this place had the best Chinese food in the world, especially since it was the only Chinese food I ever tasted, and boy was it a treat.  

Without question, I hopped in the car and headed down Western Ave to 95th Street, making a left-hand turn, knowing that egg- foo-young heaven was just a few blocks down the street. 

Watching it Unfold

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Without an inkling as to what would happen next, an older lady pulled out of a parking lot, attempting to make a left-hand turn across three lanes of traffic on 95th.  At the same time, a very young man in a Jeep had just entered traffic in front of me and crossed from the far right lane to the far left lane.  

The result was the most horrific accident you could imagine. The older lady broadsided the Jeep on the driver’s side with such force that it catapulted the driver out of the Jeep (NO SEAT BELT) some 100 feet into one of the brick buildings lining 95th street. You can imagine the result.  

Processing the Lesson

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It took me a long time to process the sequence of events that led up to that fatal accident and to get over the impact of witnessing such a devasting event.  After a while, I realized several easily correctable actions could have prevented that accident. If only one of the two drivers involved had looked both ways before turning, it would have never happened.

Making Safety a Driving Priority

A delivery driver sitting in his truck with a package on the seat next to him.
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Though my love of driving never diminished, the importance of safety, engagement at the moment, and defensive driving became embedded in my psyche.  As the owner of a trucking business, I not only drove trucks thousands of miles per month, but I taught prospective employees how to drive and get their CDLs.  In addition, I had to take classes with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and comply with all inspections and mandates needed to operate a trucking business. I became a professional. 

Oh Boy, It’s Time to Teach the Kids

A father teaching his son to drive.
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There are a few things in life that define entry into adulthood, but nothing tops the day your little boy or girl gets their driving license.  It is the most proud and terrifying moment of a parent’s life.  At the same time, it represents the ultimate act of freedom from the nest for your adult child.

Teen Drivers Need Experience

Picture of a smiling woman leaning slighlty out of the window from the driver's seat of a pick up truck.
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Teenagers are not good drivers. They can’t be. They don’t have the time or experience it takes to qualify as an adequate driver, and parents should not be bashful in pointing this out to their teens when handing over the keys. Driver education courses are designed primarily to hammer home safety and rules of the road but don’t have the time or resources to teach proper driving skills. 

The only thing that makes you a good driver is driving.

10 Rules Parents Must Demand from Their Teen Drivers

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I have driven well over a million miles in my career and have witnessed so many accidents, so many vehicular deaths, and so many bad drivers on the road it is mind-boggling.  But, I have also learned a few basic rules that I live by and practice every time I get behind the wheel of a vehicle that (Knock Wood) has kept me safe on the roads for 50 years.  Some may seem elementary, but I’m sure at least one young man would be alive if he had looked both ways over four decades ago.

Look Both Ways

A yellow road sign that says "look both ways"
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Watching young drivers with their heads plastered in one direction scares me to death. Make it a habit to ask your teen driver every day if they are turning their heads before moving with their car. I cannot stress the importance of physically turning your head, not once but three or four times before turning, changing lanes, or pulling out into traffic.  

It doesn’t even matter if you are turning right onto a one-way street, LOOK BOTH WAYS!  I witnessed a bizarre accident where a guy didn’t realize he turned the wrong way on a one-way street and clocked someone turning into him who had never seen him coming. It wasn’t a significant collision, but it was avoidable.

Yellow Means Stop!

Up close of a yellow traffic light.
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If I have one bone of contention with the “rules of the road” instruction, it revolves around the idea that a yellow light means caution.

It does not! It means stop. Your teen driver needs to understand that it is never acceptable to blow through a yellow light.  It means that your turn to travel safely through an intersection is over. 

Yellow Doesn’t Mean…

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Yellow does not mean speed up. It does not mean it’s okay to get through before the light turns red. It means STOP.  It gives the driver approximately 3 seconds before turning red, and many people think they are being slick by speeding up the minute that light turns from green to yellow- it is sickening. 

The number of red-light accidents in the USA is staggering, and most are caused by people blowing lights.

How To Safely Move Through Yellow

A hanging traffic signal with the yellow light on.
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 If you have to go through a yellow because you legitimately don’t have time to stop, you must Look Both Ways, take your foot off the gas, and cover the brake peddle as you cruise through.  

You Do Not Have the “Right of Way” When Making a U-Turn

A u-turn sign on an empty desert road.
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Different parts of the country treat U-turns differently, but everywhere I have ever traveled, one rule remains the same: U-TURNS MUST YIELD.  

The U-turn accident has to be the most preventable accident of all.  You have no right to make one when other cars are in the way.  Kids make this mistake a lot. You must be the last to go when making a U-Turn.

Passing Trucks on Two-Lane Roads

Traffic on a rural two-lane road.
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Teens have little patience.  They also know-it-all and those two traits cause countless teen driver accidents when it comes to understanding the role trucks play on our streets and highways. Without question, the most horrific accidents occur when cars pass trucks on two-lane roads.  

Understanding Why Truckers Drive the Way They Do

A truck driver smiling and standing outside of his truck.
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Most people don’t realize that truck drivers are working.  They aren’t there to slow you down. They aren’t there to ruin your day. They are literally bringing food to your tables, clothes to shopping centers, and building materials for homes. Most get paid by the mile, and the faster they go, the more they make. 

If a truck is going slow or coming to a stop, there is a reason you can’t see. Unless you are 100 percent confident and have the vision to pass safely, DON’T PASS TRUCKS ON TWO LANE ROADS!

Go The Flow

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Idiocy abounds on streets and highways when, for some unknown reason, people decide they are not part of the traffic flow. They insist on doing exactly what the law prescribes, and the other drivers must accept it. 

Teens go in both directions when it comes to observing traffic flow. Some pretend it’s the Indy 500, and some act like other vehicles should just go around them. 

Speed Limits Work When Everyone Obeys

A 25 MPH speed limit sign in a residential neighborhood.
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 A flaw in our driving system is that we pretend the speed limits are the end all be all law on the streets and expressways, which would be great if all drivers obeyed the law.  While you should never exceed the speed limit or break the law, you must be aware of the speed traffic is traveling and do your best to match it. 

An Even Flow Prevents Accidents

A highway intersection with lines of traffic.
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Teens need to be conscious of the speed at which traffic is flowing. If you are not comfortable at that speed, take another route.  Teach your teens the more other drivers are forced to pass you, change lanes to avoid you, or slam on their breaks because you sped past and cut them off, the greater the chance you will be involved in a major car accident.    

Road Rage Kills

A man experiencing road rage. He gestures aggressively and yells while driving.
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People seem to think that road rage is a fairly new phenomenon, but it’s been around since the first two cars shared the road over a hundred years ago. In the old cartoon, Mr. Magoo made a living by aggravating other drivers. The only thing that has changed is that road rage has turned deadlier than ever with the accessibility of guns in our country. A simple misunderstanding can now have devasting consequences.  

Show Grace on the Road

A smiling driver waving out his window.
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Teach your teens the lost art of apologizing for one’s mistakes. Nothing defuses an angry driver like admitting a mistake or acknowledging fault with a wave of your hand – even if you weren’t wrong. 

Who cares?  If a situation gets out of control, teach your child to change directions, drive away from the angry motorist, and DON’T ENGAGE THE OUTRAGE. It’s a loser, and nothing good can happen from confronting someone out of control with rage.

DON’T CHANGE MULTIPLE LANES AT ONCE

A man and woman stand next to each other, both have their hands out, palms up as if to say "stop."
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Improper lane usage is a nasty accident just waiting to happen. I’ve seen motorcyclists destroyed, multiple vehicle pile-ups, and individuals hit a road obstacle and roll their cars into ditches because they all tried to change multiple lanes. 

Changing Lanes is Dangerous

Graphic showing a car about to change lanes on a highway.
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Teen Drivers need to understand before they open the car door that changing lanes at any speed is dangerous business, while crossing several lanes at once is just plain reckless.  Changing lanes properly means you look ahead, behind, and to both sides of your vehicle regardless of which lane you are changing. 

Dos and Don’ts of Changing Lanes

Post it note stickers on a wall with the words "do's" and "don'ts" written on them.
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You must know what’s around your car before you change its direction, and you must signal appropriately. Don’t change a lane and slow down, forcing another driver to adjust their speed. Don’t cut it so close you can’t react if a driver in front of you slams on his brakes, and don’t jockey lanes in heavy traffic. Lane jockeys actually slow up traffic.  

Watch Out Behind You

A woman adjusts her rear view mirror as she drives.
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Some of the most devasting accidents are rear-end collisions, and almost all could be avoided. Distracted driving is the primary cause of rear-end collisions, and in my experience, one action, above all others, could prevent the vast majority from happening. 

Teach your teen driver that the rear-view mirror is second to none in avoiding a rear-end collision. 

Rear View Provides Awareness

A man sees his eyes reflected in a rear view mirror.
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When coming to a spot where I want to make a right-hand turn into a street or a parking lot, I  flip on my directional and immediately look into the rear-view mirror, making sure the driver behind me has recognized my action.  On many occasions, I have avoided collisions by adjusting my speed or skipping the turn altogether when I saw a distracted driver barreling down on me as I prepared to turn.  

Your teens must know they control their vehicles and should be aware of every vehicle around them.

Tailgaters 

One driver tailgating another on a three-lane highway.
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As a seasoned driver, I can honestly say the most aggravating drivers are tailgaters. These people have a fundamental lack of understanding of time, space, and speed.  The faster you go, the longer it takes to stop, and riding the car’s bumper in front of you won’t end well in the event of a sudden stop.  

Don’t Brake Check

The bright red of a car's brake lights at night.
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Nothing makes a driver more upset than having someone ride their tail and anger them to the point of executing the ever-so-popular break check. Teenage drivers must understand that nothing good ever comes from tailgating a car in front of you and that brake-checking a car behind you can cause a severe accident. The solution to anyone tailgating you is to move out of their way.  

Don’t Take Their Word for It

Teenage boy wearing a unique hat and a striped shirt.
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Every teenager who steps on that gas pedal for the first time and feels the tremendous power of a car that they control gets giddy with excitement. For some, it’s not a big deal, but for many, it’s a thrill that needs to be tested.  “How fast does it go?”  “Won’t my friends think I’m cool?”

“My parents will never find out!”  As a parent, we all know what our kids think, even if they don’t think we are quite that smart.  When I was a teenager, I was convinced my mom would never know the crazy things  I did with my Chevy Biscayne until I got ratted out by a neighbor who spotted me going a hundred miles per hour on the shoulder of the expressway racing another car.  I was without wheels for some time after that, but I learned my lesson, and I was fortunate enough to live.  

Monitor Their Driving

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Today’s parents don’t need to rely on their neighbors because technology exists to monitor the driving behaviors of anyone.  The smartest and best thing you can do as the parent of a teenage driver in today’s day and age is explore some of the driving apps available and stay engaged with your young adult as they discover the wonders of freedom behind the wheel of their car. 

That cargo is way too precious to be lost in a moment of youthful carelessness.

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