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Should Your Teen Driver Take the Wheel on Your Family Road Trip?

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Whether you love the mountains, the beach, or big cities, there are countless destinations available for family road trips from Montgomery County. Now that your teen is driving, should he or she share the driving responsibilities on your family road trip?

Dad and teen son driving in car

Yes! Your teen should absolutely get behind the wheel for your vacation, but not without good preparation and planning. Learning valuable safe driving skills will help your teen have a great experience driving on his or her first longer road trips, and that could lead to a lifelong love of traveling. The key to creating a good experience is managing everyone’s expectations for maximum confidence and safety.

Plan and Prepare for a Successful Road Trip

There are several steps to make sure your teen driver is prepared to be a driver on your vacation or holiday trip:

  • Review the route together and discuss the costs and benefits of various options.

  • Help your teen log plenty of highway driving hours before the trip, and reinforce highway best practices.

  • Check the forecast along the route to make last-minute adjustments to the driving schedule.

  • Check neighboring state laws to make sure your child’s permit or junior license is valid.

    • Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware all recognize PA Learner’s Permits. New York State also recognizes them, but New York City does not. Conversely, PA does not recognize learner’s permits from other states.

By the day of your trip, your teen should feel confident and ready to share in the driving duties. This is an important rite of passage, so make sure your teen knows you are proud of their contribution to the family vacation.

Set the Tone for Safety

Remember to lead by example during your own legs of the trip with safe driving practices. If possible, have your young driver act as navigator in the front seat, and narrate your decisions and observations during the drive.

When your teen takes the wheel, practice smart and safe coaching:

  • Ask questions to help avoid tunnel vision.

  • Watch for signs of fatigue and continually check in to avoid drowsy driving.

  • Stick to chit chat helps your teen stay focused on the road to avoid distracted driving.

  • Offer navigation instruction well ahead of time so that your teen doesn’t experience panic, anxiety or the urge to argue.

If traffic is heavy, or you see your teen getting nervous about all the activity on the highway, help them remain calm with anxiety-reducing techniques, and make a plan to take a break as soon as it is safe. Don’t allow your own anxiety to make it worse for your child; stay calm and keep your voice steady as you offer guidance.

If you’re driving during the holiday season, be aware of the heightened risks on the road and manage your teen’s drive time accordingly. In general, it’s safer for your teen to drive during the day and on clear road conditions. Since that’s not always possible, remind your teen to stay alert and aware of other drivers who may be rushing, distracted or impaired.

Inviting your child to share in driving duties during family vacations and road trips is a milestone in your family journey, so take a minute to really embrace the adult your teen is becoming.

If you need more guidance before you hand the keys to your teen before your upcoming road trip, try these additional Safe Driving Coach resources:

Learn more about The Parent's Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers online course


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