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Safety Behind the Wheel: Talking to Teens About Driving

By Lee Michael Katz

  • Instilling safe driving habits in your teen shouldn't be a bore for them or for you — here's how to make them aware of road safety and the risks of drunk driving.

    Graduation season can bring not only celebration, but also a parent's worst nightmare: the mix of an inexperienced teen driver and alcohol.

    Young adults in the U.S. can't legally buy or drink alcohol until they are 21, which makes teen drunk driving statistics all the more sobering. One in five teenage drivers involved in a fatal crash in 2010 had ingested alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and nearly one million high school teens drank alcohol and got behind the wheel in 2011. Teen drivers are also far more likely to have alcohol-related accidents, and roughly one in four teens reported having recently ridden with a driver who had been drinking.

    Through example, joint discussion and clear rules, you can reduce the danger of your child becoming a statistic. Here's how to help prevent the risks of underage drinking and driving:

    1. Get help talking with your teen. Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) offers conversation starters and tips on its website. For more information, Liberty Mutual has a partnership with SADD and provides helpful information on ways to connect with and educate your teens, including a Parent/Teen Contract to help establish family driving rules.
    2. Set an example. Drinking and driving is just as illegal for adults as it is for teens. If you have a couple of drinks at dinner, hand the keys to a licensed family member or friend who hasn't been drinking alcohol. It powerfully reinforces the idea that drinking and driving don't mix.
    3. Texts: Never. Seatbelts: Always. There should be no phone use or texting while driving. offers a list of other potential distractions to avoid, including MP3 players and GPS units. Seatbelts are a necessity. About half the teens killed in drunk driving accidents were unbuckled at the time of the crash.
    4. Have an emergency plan. Make it clear that you'll always provide a no-strings-attached ride home or pay for a cab, if your teen does drink or is out with someone who consumed alcohol.
    5. Get educated. Liberty Mutual has partnered with Adept Driver to offer their teenSMART driving course, which includes tips on how to better manage the emotions that lead to drunk driving.