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Teen Driving: State Laws vs. House Rules

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and we need that awareness now more than ever. The National Safety Council estimates that motor-vehicle deaths have been increasing year after year since 2019. We have plenty of laws in place to reduce distracted driving, but the reality is that laws alone can’t stop the problem. The best way to avoid distracted driving, especially when dealing with teenagers, is to understand what it is so that the laws and rules make sense.

Teen driver in the car with her driving coach.

One thing I like to remind parents is that while Pennsylvania State Law governs their child’s legal operation of a car, they as the parents can and should set additional rules. Parents need to be aware of their child’s individual risks based on personality and maturity. They may need to set boundaries, at least when their teens are brand new licensed drivers, that are more strict than state law.

How Do Pennsylvania Driving Laws Protect Against Distracted Driving?

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, or PennDot, has a whole page dedicated to Young Drivers that parents and teens should review. As this particular set of drivers tend to have a high risk for accidents, it makes sense that many young driver laws have been designed to reduce a teen’s ability to be distracted while driving. One of the main restrictions on a Junior License is that teens may not drive after 11:00 at night unless they have proof that they are coming home from work or volunteer service. Teens are generally up early in the morning for school, which means that they are more likely to be tired and inattentive at that late hour.

Passenger limitation: Young drivers can have only one non-family member under 18 with them in the vehicle. After six months on the junior license, the restriction rises to no more than three passengers under 18. Immediate family members are excluded from the restriction. When teens pile into a car with friends, the driver’s attention is always pulled off the road and onto whatever else is happening in the car. Teens are simply safest when they don’t ride around in each other’s cars.

Pennsylvania’s text messaging ban applies to all drivers, not just teenagers. Parents need to make sure to set a good example on this law by not breaking it during their own drive time.

What House Rules Should I Set for My Teen Driver?

You know your teen best, so you need to assess their abilities as a driver and their proclivities for getting distracted. If you don’t feel that your teen is ready for passengers, to drive during certain times of the day (or during busy driving holidays), or in certain scenarios, then you’ll need to set your own additional rules. Your teen might not like the additional restrictions, but their safety is the priority.

When you set house rules for your teen, it’s a good idea to be open and honest about why you are setting them. Dialogue will help your teen understand why you feel these additional rules are in place, and you can collaborate on ways to improve their safe driving skills. It’s also important to set these rules with a plan for lifting them. Give your teen a goal to work towards, and they will keep the boundaries in perspective as they strive to earn your trust.

Father and son preparing to go for a drive in the car.

No matter what rules you have in place, download the Safe Family Driving Pledge and agree to follow it as a family. Remember that you are responsible for setting a safe driving example for your teen long before they get behind the wheel. Even with your own rules in place, if you’re not seeing progress the way you hope, maybe it’s time to get some additional help with professional driving lessons. I know that the parent-child dynamic can be tough to navigate sometimes. If you’re unable to get beyond conflict into positive communication, it’s better to get help than to give up.

For more ideas on setting your teen up for safe driving success, download our Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers. Many parents just need to learn the basics of coaching a new driver in order to get their teen off to a great, and safe, start.


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