My kid is an independent driver…now what?

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My oldest son will finish his freshman year of college this year and it already feels like he’s been at it for years. There are certain things that I have learned to not stress about as much anymore – like will he figure out how to cook himself a healthy meal, without burning down the dorm? Will he be distracted by the fun college activities too much to focus on the serious stuff? Will he shower…I mean, for the benefit of his roomies, at least?

Yup, I don’t worry about those things anymore. He’s managing it all really beautifully, enough so that sometimes I forget he is still not fully matured.

My reminder? Every time he gets into our car. He blasts the music loudly and tends to get careless on the road, in an overly confident way. It’s incredible how your teen can go from a nervous mess when they are first learning to drive, to a completely opposite, too-confident-on-the-verge-of-careless driver.

I will never forget how, just 2 weeks after finally getting his license, he backed up our car from our very, very narrow driveway, swiping the side of our house and tearing off the side view mirror. Luckily no one was injured, but it left me worried about what other careless mistakes he and other teens do on the road in their newly minted role as drivers.

It’s not just driving fast that concerns me. It’s the driving while distracted. We had and continue to have the “no texting and driving” conversation and I often point out how easy it is to get into an accident or injure someone even when distracted for just a second.

And this isn’t just me being a nervous mom, there are plenty of facts to prove why we should all be concerned. Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) recently released the following data:

● Even teens who consider themselves safe drivers readily admit to engaging in behaviors such as app use (68%), and texting (27%) at least sometimes while driving.

○ While 41 percent of teens say that using navigation apps while driving is dangerous or distracting, 58 percent report using them on the road.
○ 64 percent say that using music apps while driving is dangerous or distracting, but nearly half (46 percent) still admit to using them in the car.

● 73 percent of teens admit to having their phones nearby while driving alone.

That’s a lot of distracted drivers. Even if you feel like your kid “would never,” you can’t guarantee that other teens won’t drive while distracted, placing the extra burden of safety and alertness on all of us. Luckily, there are some things we can all do to help improve our teens’ behavior on the road. Because no matter how big they are, or older they seem, we, as parents, still have a very important role to play.

To help open the lines of communication, Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) encourage parents and teens to use the Teen Driving Contract as a conversation starter and discussion guide. It helps parents and teens discuss and uphold family driving rules. While families should create rules that work best for them, these tips from Dr. William Horrey, principal research scientist at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, are a good place to start:

Hide the phone! 73 percent of teens admit to having their phones nearby while driving alone. Ask teens to keep their phones out of reach and on silent so they’re less tempted to check incoming app notifications and more likely to keep their eyes on the road. Also, resist the urge to text your teen or call when you think they may be on the road.

Map it out. 42 percent of teens say they text while driving to get directions or find out how to get somewhere. Teach teens to program their navigation apps before getting behind the wheel or pull over to double check directions.

Set a good example. More than a quarter of parents admit to not following the same rules required of their teens when it comes to texting, speeding or talking on the phone while driving. Furthermore, 50 percent of parents knowingly text their teen while they are driving and 29 percent of parents expect a response before their teen reaches their destination. Parents should keep their own behaviors in mind to avoid becoming an added distraction to their teen driver.

Don’t stop practicing! Teen drivers can easily get into bad habits when they are behind the wheel and parents should continue to coach and talk to their teen about different driving situations. Ideally parents should spend at least a half hour a week in the car with their teen driver.

As a travel blogger, I wish on my son many happy road trip adventures and excursions with friends and loved ones. I am excited for this new found freedom and how it provides him with easier access to the world. But the conversations on safety never have to stop, even if you are just checking in. Every little bit helps to keep our kids and others safe. It’s never too late or too early to have these conversations.


This post is in partnership with Liberty Mutual Insurance. All opinions are my own.

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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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