Car accidents are the leading cause of death for American teenagers reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  Graphic news reports backed by statistics on the risks of teen driving can make parents want to ban their teen from ever driving.  However, inexperience is one of the leading causes of auto accidents involving teenagers reports U.S. News. This data is the reason car insurance companies set higher rates for teenage drivers. To become a safe driver, your teen needs to gain experience by driving, and driving under different conditions, but placing limits until your teen has matured will make her time on the road as a teen safer. 

You can reduce your teen’s chance of getting into a car accident with some tough love and by taking a critical look at your own driving habits. The use of a car and driver’s license should be seen as a privilege and not a right, with the parent in control of that privilege. Making rules on the use of the car clear before your teen starts driving and being quick to cut off access to the car the first time a rule is broken will make your teen mad, but may save his life. Also know that parents do have a strong influence on their child’s driving habits even if they are not in the car.

Follow Graduated Licensing Practices

Many states have implemented graduated licensing laws thaFacts About Teen DriversCredit: Flickr: Robert Couse-Bakert restrict teen driving until they age and gain experience. These have proven to reduce driving accidents among teenagers. Even if your state does not have such laws, parents can use the guidelines to implement a step-by-step approach to giving their teen full access to the car. This involves granting driving privileges in stages. For example, in the first stage you may not allow your child to get a driver’s license until she has completed a set number of training hours and had no incidents during that time. In the second stage, she may get her license, but not drive with friends or at night for six to 12 months. In the third stage she may be allowed to have one or two friends in the car while driving during the day. Before your teen gets a driving license, set specific steps he or she needs to take before being allowed complete freedom with the car.

Follow State Laws

Graduated licensing laws may restrict driving with friends, require driver’s training, and never allow teens to use a cell phone except in emergencies. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that in these states, “crash rates among teenage drivers have declined about 10 to 30 percent.” Require that your teen follow the laws and don’t allow bending of the laws for your own convenience.

Make Seat Belts Mandatory

In 2009, 56 percent of teens involved in fatal car accidents were not buckled according to the National Highway traffic Safety Administration. Keeping your teen driver safe starts when they are infants. If parents follow the car seat and seat belt laws during their child’s entire life, their child will be taught a good safety habit when in the car. If buckling up has been the routine every time they got into a car from the time they were babies, teens will not forget to put on a seat belt. Wearing a seat belt while driving should be one of the rules that can never be broken.

Buy a Safe Car

Requiring that your teen buy his own car will give him an invaluable lesson on money management and responsibility. However, it may also put him in a dangerous car. Instead, participate in your child’s car choice by requiring that you have the final say on what car he can buy, even if that means you need to contribute financially to get a safer car. Don’t buy a car made for speed. Rather choose one based on safety ratings.

No Friends in the Car

For every passenger in the car, the risk for a teenage driver having an accident goes up reports the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To reduce this risk, the NHTSA recoFacts about teenage driversCredit: Flickr: jgrebedwmmends that for the first year of driving, teens should not have more than one other teenage passenger in the car, and no more than two after that until age 18. Depending on your child and his friends, you may want to restrict your child from driving any friends for a set amount of time.

Set a Curfew

Weekend and nighttime driving are especially risky for teens according to studies.  “Most young drivers’ night time fatal crashes occur from 9 p.m. to midnight,” reports the IIHS, with 56% occurring on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday according to the CDC. Recreational driving seems to put teens at higher risk for auto accidents. A strong curfew, or a parent willing to do the driving during these times, will reduce that risk.

Set a Good Example When Driving

Whether they admit it or not, teens will often drive just like their parents. “Teens with crashes and violations often have parents with poor driving records,” reports the IIHS and NHTSA. If you speed, drink while driving, take risks, use the cell phone, text behidn the wheel, or fail to use a seat belt while driving, then your teen is likely to do these things as well. Your own driving practices could put your child at risk even when you are not in the car.

When setting the driving rules for your teen, don’t give warnings. If you see your teen without a seat belt, speeding, using the phone while driving, or she gets a ticket for violating driving laws, immediately take away the keys for a significant amount of time. Require that your teen get more experience driving with you or a driving instructor before she can earn the keys back. Your child’s anger at the punishment and inconvenience to you are well worth it.