Parenting teen drivers: anticipating the “What ifs?”

Some parents cannot wait for their children to reach driving age. They either need help carting other kids around or they’re simply eager for the freedom of no longer having to play lone taxi driver.

I wasn’t one of those.

Though not prone to worry, I’ve received a few of those calls–the kind that merely send your heart to racing, or the tragic one in the middle of the night that leaves you reeling…. I can’t stop myself from saying Be careful every time I’m with my children and they walk out the door with a set of keys in their hand. This even goes for the two in college.

A car in the hands of an inexperienced driver is a loaded gun. Throw a cell phone in the car and you’ve just cocked the trigger.

A car is a loaded weapon

As parents, we do what we can to instruct and equip our children to minimize risk – to them, certainly, but for everyone else on the road, too.

I’ll never forget the day a neighbor couple showed up at my front door to ask if they could speak with my son or whomever just pulled in our driveway; turns out, this couple’s young children were playing in their front yard at the time my son’s friend was speeding through the neighborhood to our house.

The dad wanted to speak to our children and their friends to appeal to them to slow down. Why was he willing to do a potentially embarrassing thing like that? This dad had killed his best friend in a speeding accident when he was a teenager.

He paid an unimaginable cost to learn the truth of my words. Loaded gun….

Thankfully most of us will never face a severe accident, but I’d wager many of us have experienced a fender bender at some point in our lives. It’s likely that if you have a teen driver, he or she will, too. The question that needs to be asked:

Does your teenager know what to do if he or she has a wreck?

Listen closely, mamas and daddies: even if you have discussed this with him or her, even if you feel like you’ve explained it ad nauseum and it’s just common sense anyway, your otherwise bright and logical child will forget everything they know and need to do once they’re jarred by the sound of scraping metal. Or, they might believe it doesn’t apply in “this” case or they’ll defer to the other person in the accident, regardless of fault.

I’ll explain with a personal example:

A few weeks ago during a morning rain shower, my son scraped another parent’s car turning into a parking space at school. He quickly checked to see if his car was damaged (it wasn’t, beyond scraped paint), and understandably flustered, turned to go into school. The mom stopped him to talk and she got his name and my number. He called me later during a break between classes – thankfully, before I got a call from the other mom.

He was barely rolling when he made the turn and no one was injured, but I became increasingly irritated as I went through a series of questions:

Did you call the police and file a report?

Did you exchange insurance information?

Did you get her name and number?

He hadn’t done any of the things we have instructed our children multiple times to do in case of an accident. Based on how he described the events, I wasn’t convinced it was even his fault, but he was quick to assume responsibility. I wondered if an officer would have thought differently.

The other person involved was just as new to the school as we were, and stranger things have happened than insurance fraud. A mannerly kid whose nature is deference to authority, our son was rattled and let this mom take the lead in what to do rather than following the protocol we had previously established.

I was extremely frustrated when I finally spoke with the other driver; I couldn’t understand how an honest adult would not call the police. How did she know we had insurance and would cover the cost of her car’s damage? I didn’t agree with her actions; however, the more I spoke with her, the more reasonable I found her to be.

My husband and I seized this opportunity to once again review with our children what they should do in the event of an accident.

  • We invited their questions and had them verbalize back to us exactly what we expected.
  • We went over a number of different types of scenarios so they could understand the best course of action for each one.
  • We engaged them in conversation and did our best to avoid lecture.

It is extremely unnerving to be in an accident, regardless of fault; it’s easy to forget what to do especially if the other driver is aggressive or accusing you when you believe he is at fault. Have you had this conversation with the drivers in your house? If so, why not have a conversation today inviting them to tell you what they’d do in the event of an accident.

Don’t assume they remember. I promise: it can never hurt to reinforce what (you think) they already know!

There are a lot of AoS readers whose children are just approaching driver age. How about sharing your best piece of advice for parenting new drivers?

P.S. With high school and college graduations right around the corner, it’s time to share my post featuring great ideas for gifts including items every car shouldn’t be without!

You can say no to constant busyness.

To lead your family with peace, you need to know your NOs and YESes. But what are they?

Like Your Life can help you figure them out.

21 Comments

  1. Angela Mills

    We’ve taught our oldest to drive and the best advice I could give is to let them drive every chance you get while they’re learning and you have the opportunity to teach them. That, and pray. A lot 🙂

    We also enrolled our daughter in a driving school, which I think is important because I know her teacher taught her things that would never occur to me.

    • Robin Dance

      Angela,

      Great points. Usually insurance companies also offer a discount when students take a defensive driving course, so money saved!! Bonus!

  2. Vicki Cook

    As the mother of a 20 year old, I can relate. My daughter has unfortunately had a couple of accidents – one was her fault, the other wasn’t. Those things cause your heart to fall right into the pit of your stomach. It’s easy to forget what to do when you have an accident, even adults do it. Yesterday I witnessed an accident. I gave both the drivers my name and phone number – then waited for the police to arrive. Luckily both drivers were fine, and no one was hurt.

    • Robin Dance

      Vicki!! I just witnessed a wreck, too, but couldn’t get off the interstate where it happened, and I observed several other cars who were able to help. I think the driver’s tire blew out; if the car beside him hit him, I didn’t see that happen.

      And yes, because it’s unnerving when that happens to ANYone, it’s so important to have this conversation multiple times. Once really doesn’t allow it to sink in.

  3. Lauren

    This is a tough, worry-filled subject. We created a basic to-do list with important phone numbers and steps (“fill in other drivers’ name, phone number and insurance info here”) and put it in the glove compartment with a disposable camera and a pen. That being said, it was a super stressful time and I don’t miss it. We also required 40 hours of behind the wheel time after becoming licensed before allowing any passengers. I’m not sure how we will handle it in the future – so much of it depends on the nature of the child.

    • Robin Dance

      There’s a lot of wisdom in what you shared, Lauren. Having something written down as a reminder is something you never hope to use but would be thankful for if you found yourself in that position. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Deserae

    This is good advice for everyone, not just teens! I’ve found myself in a situation like this as a young driver when I was rear-ended at a stop light. The guy who hit me was shaking and nervous, and I got his name and number thinking I did the right thing, only to discover he gave me false information. I didn’t think to get the license plate number or any other info, so I was on the hook for the damages to my bumper. It was a painful lesson to learn.

    My teen would be driving soon if we were staying in the US, but the driving age is higher in Scotland where we are moving. I am kind of relieved to have an extra couple years respite before I have to worry so much. The idea of my teen driving makes me so nervous.

    • Robin Dance

      Deserae,

      Wow…I can’t believe what happened to you. Yes, a very expensive lesson!

      We lived in Germany a few years ago and I was surprised to learn the hoops you have to jump through to get a license, and also at an older age than the US (and you can legally drink at 16–crazy!).

      Thanks for sharing YOUR experience; it might helps someone else who reads!!

  5. kariane

    Those are good points to file away for when my boys are ready to drive (a decade plus from now). Accidents can definitely unnerve even experienced drivers.

    • Robin Dance

      Kariane,

      Parenting requires SO MANY THINGS to remember! It’s great to have communities to help and incourage–in real life and virtually like here :).

  6. Sheila

    Good advice on knowing what to do in case of an accident but a great majority of accidents do not require police involvement. If both cars are driveable and no injuries then the police will not respond. As long as you exchange insurance information you are fine.

    • Robin Dance

      I think that sometimes depends on where you are; but if there’s ever a question of fault, I would ALWAYS press for a report!!

  7. Bethann

    We’re nearing this stage and after reading your post, I’m anxious!! Thanks for your insights in how to navigate the years of the teen drivers!

  8. Elaine Pool

    Oh, where to begin? Last summer, our church lost a 17-year-old (who we’ve know since conception) when she pulled across a highway right in front of a speeding truck. Her brother & sister spent a week in ICU, and are physically fine, but you never really get over that.

    Our own personal daughter called us on Thanksgiving Eve, having been rear-ended at 65 mph (heavy traffic), while she was coming home for the holiday – TWO hundred miles away. That’s when you panic – you can’t get there. Thankfully, my sister & her husband lived w/in 20 miles, & she was able to be cared for by them, and came home the next day.

    Our son did the rear ending on the way to school one morning. Tore the “snot” out of his car; didn’t damage the full-sized truck he hit. What did I do? Handed him the keys to my Suburban & MADE him get back on the horse.

    My point is, it’s going to happen. It’s not always going to end well, but usually it does. You HAVE to impress on your kids to use good judgment – if there’s a car within sight coming down the highway, WAIT. They’re going faster than they look. If you’re in a wreck – CALL US. That way, we can make sure that procedures are followed.

  9. Elaine Pool

    Oh, where to begin? Last summer, our church lost a 17-year-old (who we’ve know since conception) when she pulled across a highway right in front of a speeding truck. Her brother & sister spent a week in ICU, and are physically fine, but you never really get over that.

    Our own personal daughter called us on Thanksgiving Eve, having been rear-ended at 65 mph (heavy traffic), while she was coming home for the holiday – TWO hundred miles away. That’s when you panic – you can’t get there. Thankfully, my sister & her husband lived w/in 20 miles, & she was able to be cared-for by them, and came home the next day.

    Our son did the rear ending on the way to school one morning. Tore the “snot” out of his car; didn’t damage the full-sized truck he hit. What did I do? Handed him the keys to my Suburban & MADE him get back on the horse.

    My point is, it’s going to happen. It’s not always going to end well, but usually it does. You HAVE to impress on your kids to use good judgment – if there’s a car within sight coming down the highway, WAIT. They’re going faster than they look. If you’re in a wreck – CALL US. That way, we can make sure that procedures are followed.

    And if the unthinkable happens – to you or someone else – I pray God’s grace and mercy over you. Let others minister to you, and minister to them. They need it and you need to do it.

    • Elaine Pool

      (sorry for the double post)

  10. Bonnie Jean

    Just for all you parents out there… especially in areas hard hit by bad weather this winter. You should call the police and your insurance company immediately… even if you just have damage from a pothole. We had a situation where the pothole was hit a few miles from home and we just barely made it home. Then we called the insurance company after we got the bill as we did not know it was covered. (Actually the state and town sometimes cover such things). Anyway, long story short … we were left with a $2500.00 bill which our insurance should have paid if we had done those two things and had it towed there and also made sure the mechanic wrote up the ticket properly… which he did not and my husband never questioned it as he was there. I would have as I worked as an auto service writer several years back. But there are things without other cars involved that cause a lot of money and anxiety and inconvenience that two phone calls and a towing service would have cost us only $250.00 max. And a lot less frustration. Always call police and insurance companies. Always get license plates, make, model and color… name and address and insurance from the documents. With the police there that shouldn’t be an issue. If they are not being reasonable or you feel threatened, the license plate #, care make and model and color help but try not to leave the scene. If you have to… go to the next safe place… home… a gas station if open… the police station… and then report the exact location. Sometimes evidence is left there. Pick it up with gloves or a plastic bag (keep some in your car trunk). Even a broken headlight can help. Or a chip of the color of the car. Be aware. Also, do not give them your info if they are not being cooperative. Just go and call police. In this world, road rage and other violence is rampant, especially at night… so be careful. Your life is more important than the car if the situation is dangerous.

  11. Maria

    From what you’re describing – kid pulls into a spot, scraping my parked car – i wouldn’t have called the police, either. I once accidently damaged the side mirror of a parked car, left my name and number on the windshield and my insurance took care of it without a police report. Of course, I was fully admitting it was my fault, so maybe that made a difference. Maybe because I live in a city, it just doesn’t occur to most people to call the police for a dinged car.

  12. Alissa

    My mom did a brilliant thing (but annoying to my teenage self) when I was learning to drive. She put two stacks of post-it notes in the car. One labeled with #1-20 and one with #1-50. After completing our drivers’ training, I had to complete one “freeway drive” or “city drive” for each post-it before we were allowed to sit for our drivers’ test. It forced me to get behind the wheel and practice driving all the “normal” places – to basketball practice on a Tuesday. To youth group across town during heavy traffic. None of this Saturday afternoon practice drives in ideal conditions. Only real world practice counted.

    My dad also intentionally took both my brother an I on our first “parking lot practice” session during bad weather, so we would not be intimidated to drive in the rain.

  13. Christina Drake

    I have a 16 year old boy learning to drive now. I’ve noticed that it’s hard for him to concentrate on the road while reaching for a drink. Needless to say, we will be practicing for a while! I have heard about some form of technology that lets you know when your teen is speeding. I don’t know details though.
    When I was a teen, mom practiced with me, but for some reason when I hit a parked car in front of me, I was the one angry because the car was in my way, so after I hit it I drove off. It was a pizza delivery car. I don’t know what I was thinking back then!
    At times I found myself on the wrong side of the road as a teen driver. I’ve yielded stop signs and did allot of speeding. I was a terrible teen driver! I can say I have never had an accident while driving, only two times when the car in front of me was parked as well as mine.
    God was so looking out for me!
    My point I’m getting to is that I want to prepare my teens more than I was prepared, and take all precautions needed to ensure they’re ready for the drive.
    Thanks for the post, Robin!

  14. Momoftwo

    Our college age daughter was involved in a wreck 90 miles from our home as she was driving home from college for the summer. Fortunately she was not injured but her car was totaled. She called us instantly crying and saying what do I do? I asked her if she she was safe and to call the police immediately. She did that and was polite and respectful to the officer while sobbing her eyes out. She called AAA and asked for assistance. The other driver was belligerent and rude to the officer, paramedics and the state trooper and he ended up being charged for the accident….halfway because of his behavior I believe. I did tell my daughter to use her cell phone and take pics of the damage to the other car, her car and the license plate of the other driver. Teens often don’t remember what to do but they all know how to take pics and she did that and that has proved helpful for our insurance company. Fortunately for us, AAA towed the car to our town and we picked up our daughter..not the best start to the summer but we are thankful she was ok and that the other driver was ok too.

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