Staying Safe

With the freedom to drive comes a host of accompanying responsibilities. Perhaps most importantly, young drivers and their parents should talk about driving safely and avoiding situations that could push inexperienced drivers into making a deadly mistake.

Following these three simple safety tips could save a lot of headaches, maybe even a life.

Buckle up: Seat belt use is lower among younger drivers. Even in vehicles equipped with airbags, which are required by law on all recent models, you aren't adequately protected unless your seat belt is fastened. The rule holds true for passengers, even those in the rear seat.

Distance yourself: Drivers should maintain a safe distance — at least 10 inches — from the steering wheel to prevent an injury by an inflating airbag in a collision.

Tote a phone: A portable phone can provide peace of mind as a young driver takes off on that first unsupervised drive. Bear in mind that an inexperienced driver may find a ringing phone to be a distraction when behind the wheel, especially at night, so keep calls to a minimum.

Driving Restrictions

A driver's license gives a young driver a sense of freedom and even invincibility. That's why parents have to enforce rules that keep their teen safe. Here are some restrictions to consider.

Nighttime: In general, younger drivers need curfews. But with or without a curfew, parents should consider prohibiting unsupervised late-night driving. Teen outings late at night tend to be recreational and pose a greater risk to the driver and passengers.

Alcohol: Whatever your family rules are on alcohol consumption, one rule is inviolate: Don't drive after drinking any alcohol. Period.

Chauffeuring: Parents should place limits on the ferrying of friends. Younger drivers already are at risk because of their inexperience, immaturity and impulsiveness. Passengers can cause distractions and create peer pressure to engage in risky behavior behind the wheel.

Safety Checklist

Check off the items below to make sure you are ready for emergencies.

  • A flat-tire fixer, such as a patching kit or aerosol tire sealant
  • A flashlight
  • A mini tool kit with a hammer and screwdriver
  • A reflective triangle
  • A portable phone
  • Extra washer fluid
  • A pair of jumper cables
  • Snack foods and drinking water
  • A medical kit with basic first-aid items, such as antiseptic and bandage strips
  • An empty fuel can (Never carry spare fuel onboard; always keep your fuel tank at least half-full, especially if traveling at night or in unfamiliar territory.)
  • In cold climates: blankets, boots, gloves, a hat, snow shovel and snowbrush
Driver and Vehicle Preparation

Most driver's education classes, including those offered through public schools and independent agencies, provide instruction in defensive driving, including accident-avoidance maneuvers. Even experienced drivers with exceptional skills know they're often at the mercy of other drivers, and their best protection is to develop a good set of defensive driving techniques.

Most teenage drivers elect to take a driver's education program from their local school. For first-time drivers not enrolled in school, there are independent programs. Search the internet or your local phone book for programs in your area.

Accidents Happen

Sooner or later, most drivers are involved in an accident, and teens are four times more likely than other drivers to be involved in one, according to AAA.

Here are some key points of what to do if you're involved in an accident:

  • Move out of traffic
  • Exchange telephone numbers
  • Exchange policy numbers
  • Summon emergency help
  • Don't move injured people

Minor accidents typically don't require the presence of a police officer, unless they involve personal injury or serious damage to one or more vehicles. Both parties should exchange telephone numbers and insurance policy information, even if they're in a state with no-fault insurance regulations.

In a more serious collision, the local police and, if necessary, emergency medical help should be summoned immediately. Don't move injured people until qualified medical help arrives (unfortunately, this is a liability issue as well as a health issue). When possible, move away from the flow of traffic to avoid additional injuries.

© Cars.com 2/11/09