Getting a driver’s license is a teen rite of passage. Staying up late pacing while waiting to hear the car pull into the driveway is the parental counterpart. You’re right to worry; auto accidents are the leading cause of death for American teenagers. Over 3,800 teens between 15-20 are killed every year in the United States, and over 326,000 are injured. While you’ll probably never stop pacing the living room, there are steps you can take to make your teen safer behind the wheel.

  • Make it clear that a driver’s license is just a starting point. While many states now have graduated driving laws that ease teens into the rights and responsibilities of the road, others don’t, so create your own. Parent/teen contracts are available at
  • You’ve laid down the law about drinking and driving. Now make it clear that kids shouldn’t drive when they’re tired, either. If your son’s been up all night studying, give him a lift.
  • Cell phones are a great resource when the car breaks down, but until then they should be stored out of sight with the ringer off.
  • Until your child’s established a proven track record, don’t let her drive with other teenagers, children, or at night. A John Hopkins study showed that a teen driver with another teen in the car is 39% more likely to die in an auto accident; a teen driver with two teens in the car is 86% more likely to die.
  • Just because your kid has a license doesn’t mean he isn’t a kid. Know where he’s going, who he’s going with, and when he’ll be back. If it looks like rain, there might be drinking at the party, or your gut senses trouble, be ready to play chauffeur.

Why should you bother with these restrictive and inconvenient rules? Licensed 16-year-olds don’t only have less experience than older drivers, they’re also more prone to risk taking, more vulnerable to peer pressure, and, in their minds, immortal. For these reasons, they’re more than twice as likely to be involved in fatal collisions as everyone else. Don’t let your child become a statistic.

Here are more statistics, tips, and information on teen driving at the National Safety Council webpage: