Updated: May 24
When your teenager receives their permit, it is one of the most exciting events in their lives thus far. While it is totally reasonable to celebrate, it is also crucial to begin establishing clear rules with the new driver in the family!
This blog is here to help provide some boundaries to consider discussing with your teen.
1. What Car?
Now that they have their permit, your teen is probably already thinking about what car they will get to drive. This will vary depending on your family's situation, but it is important to make expectations clear. This could mean:
receiving a brand new car from parents/guardians
being “handed down” a family car, allowing the parent to get a new one
purchasing a new or used car themselves
sharing a car with parents or a sibling, requiring a driving schedule to be established
Whatever the case may be, you want to make sure your teen understands the plan, and preferably prior to the driver’s test to avoid confusion and conflict down the road.
2. Financial Plans
Now that your teen is growing up, it means they are most likely going to have to start taking more responsibility for things in life. This includes the financial obligations which go along with the privilege of driving:
Price of car, if applicable
Car accessories (ex. seat covers, dash decorations, bumper stickers, air fresheners, etc.)
Again, these will vary depending on your family dynamic, but it’s important to be straightforward with your teen about what is expected of them. This should also occur before they get their license in order to allow them to save up the required funds.
Curfews are necessary to keep your teen safe and to establish trust as a new driver. It is important to set a family curfew rule and make it known to all teen drivers. These are helpful to avoid driving during accident-prone times, but also to ensure they have gained more driving experience. Teenage drivers should not be driving at dawn, dusk, or late at night. PA State Law* says drivers with a Junior License may not drive between the hours of 11 p.m. - 5 a.m., unless necessary for employment purposes, for which documentation needs to be presentable. It is also suggested to set boundaries as far as how far away and the duration of time they are allowed to be out driving, and slowly extend this over time as their driving skills improve.
One of the first things your new driver is going to want to do after passing the test is to go pick up their friends and go for a ride. However, passengers in the car is one of the biggest factors for teens having car crashes. Limiting the number of passengers allows them to be less distracted while driving.
You should set clear guidelines with them about how many passengers they are allowed to drive with, and the duration the rule will last before more passengers are allowed. The current PA state law* indicates that for the first six months with a Junior License and if under the age of 18, only 1 non-family member is allowed in the vehicle. After the first six months, the teen may have no more than 3 non-family passengers. However, you know your teen best. You may want to set even stricter rules about passengers. Set rules according to what you believe will be best.
6. Phone Use
Drivers should never use their phone while driving regardless of their age, but especially less experienced teens. We all know how tempting it is to just check our phones real quick, but accidents can happen in the blink of an eye.
In the U.S. during 2018, an estimated 400,000 people were injured at the expense of a distracted driver, and more than 2,800 died.** It is crucial for parents to lead by example in the months leading up to the driver’s test when your teen is more susceptible to influences.
You can also encourage your teen to be an advocate against the dangers of distracted driving, and make sure they are keeping their friends accountable. Due to common technology, we often forget about the risks involved with even the “simpler” ways of communicating, but they are all dangerous. Some examples include:
Texting while driving, at a red light, or at a stop sign
Texting using voice text or recording messages
Using “Siri” or voice command to lead actions
Using map apps/picking up to check location
Answering phone calls
Checking social media
7. Remembering Basics
Even after receiving their license, teens should be repeatedly reminded of the basic rules of the road. While they will definitely think you’re being annoying, it will still help them be safer drivers. In fact, after teens get their license, I recommend that parents periodically (and unexpectedly) hop in the car with the teens to see how they are driving now.
Some of these reminders include:
No eating or drinking while driving (ex. Drive-Thru)
No driving under the influence (ex. Alcohol, Drugs)
No loud music
Always be aware of your surroundings
Always check signs and indicators
Always wear a seatbelt
Always check and/or adjust your mirrors and seat prior to driving
Remain cautious when driving in heightened weather conditions
Keep a safe following distance
8. Family Pledge
I, along with PA state authorities*, highly recommend creating a Family Pledge for both the teen and parents to agree upon and sign. This serves as a clear depiction of all the established rules and resulting consequences for the teen.
It will reiterate the parents’ duties to keep the teen safe while continuing to help them be a responsible driver. After my students pass the driver’s test, I always provide a Safe Family Driving Pledge to the family. This helps them remember that being a safe driver isn’t just a means of getting their license, it’s a lifelong commitment.
You can download the pledge that I use with my students to use as is or to adapt to your family. Download the Safe Family Driving Pledge here.