Road trips, with those long hours of family togetherness, offer a chance to help teen drivers and future teen drivers understand important rules of the road and learn how car tech can help keep them safe.
Early Driving Lessons
When I was a kid, my parents used to let my sister and me shift for them if one of us was in the front seat. Mom would press her foot into the clutch and cue me, and I’d move the stick into gear. We didn’t have the technology features we have today, but I remember that my parents talked to us about the importance of being a good driver.
Being on the road together gives parents and young drivers – and even younger drivers-in-waiting in the back seat – a chance to connect. Counselors often talk about the benefits of “sideways communication” with teenagers, which means talking to your kids when you’re engaged in an activity together, side by side. Jumping into the car for a road trip could mean hours or even days of uninterrupted conversation and opportunities to chat when you don’t have to look each other in the eye.
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Keeping Kids Safe on the Road
The leading cause of death for teens age 13-19 in the United States, as it has been for a long time now, is motor vehicle crashes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that car crashes represent more than one-third of all deaths to teenagers. While automotive manufacturers are working overtime to increase safety features to reduce crash rates, we still have quite a ways to go. Companies like Toyota and Volvo have goals to reduce fatal crashes in their cars to zero – in Volvo’s case, as early as next year.
Toyota Research Institute has released Guardian, which is autonomous technology designed to meld the skills of human and machine, bringing together the best assets for the most passenger safety. And the company is sharing its findings with other manufacturers, which gives me hope that the whole industry is geared toward making the roads safer for all.
Tech that Works
All of the safety technology in the world won’t help unless we use it, however, and teaching teen drivers to harness that power and practice safe driving habits is critical. For instance, getting in the habit of putting your cell phone away while you’re driving will show your teen driver that you’re serious about safety.
Once your high school student is on the road without a parent in the car, after-market technology like Automatic’s plug-into-the-dash adapter, gives parents insight into their teen’s driving habits and keeps them apprised of the car’s health with maintenance reminders.
Before they’re untethered, take the opportunity to teach your kids about some of the latest technology in your vehicle so that they have a foundation on which they can build their highway safety IQ. Driver education doesn’t stop when the class is over; the parent-teen relationship is critical to continuing the conversation on vehicle safety.
Here are five of the most important driving skills to teach your kids to be safe drivers:
1) Using cruise control properly.
Setting a cruising speed is the OG autonomous driving feature, and it has been vastly improved over time. Talk to your new driver about the importance of avoiding distracted driving, even when the car seems to be driving itself. Explain that cruise control means that you can set a consistent speed, not take your eyes off the road. Adaptive cruise control adjusts speed and braking, depending on what the car in front of you is doing, and lane tracing keeps you between the lines. Show your teen driver the difference between being in control and not being in a control in a way that demonstrates how the car is looking out for its driver and passengers.
2) Tuning into the car’s technology.
Rear cross-traffic alert is incredibly helpful for all drivers, but teenagers need to understand how to use the technology and how you handle it as an adult with extensive driving experience. Point out the technology as it’s in action and ask them to help you look, teaching them to scan the area and use all of the cameras available. Cue them for proper seat belt use, listening for the car’s unique tones to tell you when you haven’t buckled up.
3) Staying vigilant.
All of the new safety features included on cars today help reduce crash risk, but new teen drivers must also understand how to drive in various types of cars with current technology and without. Teach them to look to the side, look behind, and always be anticipating what other drivers might do.
4) Following the rules.
The primary factor in car accident fatalities for novice drivers is speed and distractions. Model this by talking to your new driver – even before he or she gets a driver’s license – about speed limits and how they affect highway safety. Ensure you’re showing that you take the speed limits and the distractions seriously, and that goes double for nighttime driving.
5) Using the infotainment system right.
If your vehicle is equipped with a navigation system that displays speed limit signs, point it out. As teens have more opportunities to practice driving, these visuals will help them pay attention to the rules of the road. With many new vehicles, setting driving behaviors early sets the tone. If you have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, disable it while your teen driver gets to know the road. They should use the nav screen for speed limits and any upcoming roadwork.
Kids – and adults, too – learn experientially. On your next road trip, make your teen drivers part of the process and use the time to exhibit behaviors that put passenger safety first.