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Teaching Kids to Be Responsible Drivers: A Guide for Parents

September 22, 2023
Safe Driving Tips

Teaching your child to be a good driver starts long before that precious cherub reaches 15 and can get a permit. In fact, every day that you drive your kid around, you are teaching them how to drive like you. Now, stop and think: Are you driving the way that you hope your child ultimately drives?

Just as you model the ways that you want your child to treat other adults, tackle their chores, and say “please and thank you,” you are modeling their future driving skills today.

In this article, I will explore various ways that you can teach your child to be a good driver, emphasizing the importance of modeling good behavior, maintaining your vehicle, avoiding distractions, planning routes for long trips, and respecting all road users.

Modeling Good Driver Behavior

Mom modeling good driving for her children

Children often learn by observing their parents or caregivers. Therefore, one of the most effective ways you can teach them about responsible driving is by modeling good behavior on the road. Here are some key aspects to consider:

  1. Obey Traffic Rules: Demonstrate the importance of obeying speed limits, stop signs, and traffic signals. Explain the reasons behind these rules, such as ensuring safety for all road users.
  2. Respect for Others: Show courtesy and patience towards other drivers, even in frustrating situations. Teach your child about the importance of sharing the road and yielding when necessary.
  3. Seatbelt Safety: Always wear your seatbelt, and ensure everyone in the vehicle does the same. Explain that seatbelts are a non-negotiable safety measure.
  4. No Impaired Driving: Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Stress the dangers of impaired driving and the legal consequences it carries.
  5. No Road Rage: Avoid aggressive driving behaviors, such as road rage and aggressive tailgating. Discuss the importance of keeping emotions in check while driving.

Staying Calm in Challenging Situations on the Road

Colorado traffic jam on I-70

Traffic can be frustrating, and encountering aggressive or inconsiderate drivers is not uncommon. However, it’s essential to teach children how to stay calm and composed in challenging situations. Here’s how:

  1. Explain Patience: Emphasize the importance of patience and restraint in traffic. Explain that getting upset or angry won’t change the situation but can lead to accidents.
  2. Deep Breathing: Teach your child techniques for managing stress, such as deep breathing or counting to ten, to help them remain calm while driving.
  3. Lead by Example: Model patience and a calm demeanor in traffic. Children are more likely to emulate your behavior when they see you handle stressful situations with composure.

Vehicle Maintenance

Teach your teens how to change a tire.

Another crucial aspect of responsible driving is taking care of your vehicle. Teaching children about vehicle maintenance not only ensures their safety but also instills a sense of responsibility. Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Regular Maintenance: Explain the importance of routine vehicle maintenance, such as checking oil levels, tire pressure, and brake fluid. Involve your child in simple maintenance tasks to familiarize them with the basics.
  2. Safe Driving Practices: Discuss how proper maintenance contributes to safe driving. For example, well-maintained brakes and tires are essential for stopping safely.
  3. Emergency Preparedness: Teach your child what to do in case of a breakdown or other vehicle-related emergencies. Make sure they know how to change a tire and have access to essential tools.

Avoiding Common Distractions in the Car

Safety first post-it in car.

Distracted driving is a significant cause of accidents. Teaching children to focus on the road and avoid distractions is crucial for their safety. Here’s how to tackle this issue:

  1. No Phone Use: Stress the importance of not using phones or other electronic devices while driving. Explain the dangers of texting, calling, or using social media behind the wheel.
  2. Eating and Drinking: Encourage your child to eat and drink before or after driving, not while on the road. Explain how eating or drinking can divert their attention from driving.
  3. Keep Conversations Light: While it’s fine to have conversations with passengers, remind your child to keep them light and avoid heated arguments or intense discussions while driving.

Planning Driving Routes for Long Trips

Teen using navigation app in car.

Effective route planning is a crucial aspect of responsible driving, especially on longer trips that you don’t take all the time. By teaching your child how to plan routes in advance, you help them become more prepared and confident on the road. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Use Navigation Apps: Show your child how to use navigation apps responsibly to plan routes and check for real-time traffic updates.
  2. Discuss Alternate Routes: Explain the importance of having alternative routes in mind in case of unexpected road closures or heavy traffic.
  3. Emergency Information: Ensure your child knows how to find nearby hospitals, gas stations, and other essential locations on their route.

Watching for Bicyclists and Pedestrians as a Driver

Cyclists on a Colorado mountain road - make sure you see them!

Responsible driving also involves being aware of and considerate toward other road users, including bicyclists and pedestrians. Teach your child to watch out for them:

  1. Explain Right of Way: Teach your child about the right of way for pedestrians at crosswalks and intersections. Emphasize the importance of yielding to them.
  2. Bicycle Safety: Discuss the rules and precautions for sharing the road with cyclists. Remind your child to maintain a safe distance when passing cyclists.
  3. School Zones: Explain the significance of school zones and the need to drive slowly and attentively when children are present.

Being a Role Model Behind the Wheel

Being a role model behind the wheel

Ultimately, the most powerful way to teach children responsible driving is by being the kind of driver you want them to become. Your actions and attitudes on the road will leave a lasting impression on your child. Here are some additional tips on being a positive role model:

  1. Open Communication: Encourage open dialogue with your child about your driving experiences. Share stories of challenges and successes, and explain how you handle different situations.
  2. Acknowledge Mistakes: If you make a driving mistake or encounter a situation where you could have acted better, admit it and discuss what you could have done differently. This demonstrates that everyone can improve their driving habits.
  3. Passenger Role: When your child reaches the legal driving age and starts practicing, be a supportive and patient passenger. Offer guidance without being overly critical.

Finally, remember that when it’s time to hand over the keys, you still have the authority to take that car away if your teen driver doesn’t follow your rules.

It’s a good idea to set out expectations up front using a Parent Contract for Teen Drivers. And hey… if you expect your teen to follow these rules, you should probably also follow them!

Teaching children to be responsible drivers long before they reach driving age is a fundamental parental responsibility. (Imagine watching your child learn to drive and displaying your worst habits! Terrifying prospect.)

Remember that your actions as a role model are the most influential factor in this process, so practice what you preach and set a positive example on the road. By instilling these values and skills early on, you contribute to safer roads and prepare your child for a lifetime of responsible driving.


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