Teen Safe Driving Guide: The Ultimate Resource For Staying Safe in The Car
As a teenager, nothing is more exciting than getting your driver’s license and enjoying that first taste of freedom. The joy of having that license tucked away in your wallet can make it easy to forget that every car also has the potential to be a deadly weapon. With freedom comes a tremendous amount of responsibility. While some accidents simply happen and can’t be prevented, there is a long list of things you can do to avoid collisions and be as safe as possible. The embarrassing picture on your license can be retaken in a few years, but the effects of a major accident can linger indefinitely, so be sure to act responsibly and stay safe.
Learning to Drive
As a passenger, driving probably looks easy. Your parents have driven you around for years and navigated traffic in a way that seems like second nature, but for new drivers, there is a real learning curve. Luckily, there are steps you can take to prepare for getting your driver’s permit and working towards a full license.
- Research the laws and regulations that govern driver’s education, learning permits and licenses in your state. There is a wide range of different requirements that depend entirely on where you live. Make sure that you are well aware of the steps you will need to take in order to qualify for a license.
- Enroll in a driver’s education program that has been approved by your state’s DMV. In some states, you can opt to either take classes online or in person. If you choose to take classes from home, you will receive a certificate of completion after having successfully passed several unit tests that cover rules of the road, safety procedures, basic car maintenance and many other important topics.
While take an online course may be more convenient from some, meeting with an instructor for classes may offer a more comprehensive approach to driver’s education. Students can ask questions and enjoy the opportunity to practice what they have learned in hands-on situations.
Whatever driver’s education route you choose to take, you will need to successfully complete an approved program and have a certificate of completion ready to present to the DMV before you can get behind the wheel and start building up driving experience.
- Now that you have your driver’s permit, you can start logging hours and getting used to handling a vehicle. Again, each state has different requirements for how long you have to have a permit before you can apply for a license. Be aware of what tasks you need to complete before you are eligible to apply got a full license that will allow you to drive without any restrictions.
In most cases, you will need to spend months driving under the supervision of an adult passenger. As you work towards getting your license, be sure that you tackle a wide range of driving challenges. Practice driving in more populated areas, on rural roads and on expressways. Also be sure to get comfortable driving at night and in different weather conditions. Finally, be sure to master parking, included the dreaded parallel parking maneuver before you head to the DMV for your final test.
- Once you have logged all the necessary hours and you feel confident and comfortable behind the wheel, you can setup an appointment with the DMV to take you driver’s test. You will have to pass both a written exam and a driving test in order to qualify for a license. Even then, most states will issue an interim or graduate license that will still have certain restrictions including: how many passengers can be in the car with you, what time of day you are allowed to drive, etc. There rules will help you build up experience under ideal circumstances so that your driving skills have time to develop before you take on bigger challenges.
One of the lessons you will have to learn as a new driver is how to be a defense driver. As the old adage goes, “The best defense is a good offense.” While you can’t control what other drivers do on the road, you can limit your own mistakes and pay close attention to your surroundings. Ideally, everyone will be on their best behavior on the road, but it will actually serve you well not to fully trust other drivers and to stay alert at all times.
It can be easy to get lost in thought or start jamming out to the radio while you are driving, and lose sight of what is going on around you. Stay focused so that you can anticipate what other drivers are doing and avoid accidents. Be aware of the car in front of you, but also scan the road as you drive and keep an eye on what is happening a few cars down the road. Use your rearview and side view mirrors to keep track of your surroundings. By constantly scanning the road, you may be able to avoid being on the tail end of an accident that is about to happen.
Defensive driving also means being extra cautious when entering an intersection or turning into traffic. Hopefully everyone is obeying traffic signals and stopping at red lights, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to look both ways before each intersection to confirm that other drivers haven’t tried to beat the light or simply ran a red.
Always look both ways before entering an intersection, and never, ever proceed in making a turn without looking forward after you have confirmed there are no cars coming in the opposite direction — you might hit a pedestrian crossing the street if you are still looking to the left, for example, when making a right-hand turn.
Be on the look-out for bad behavior from other drivers so that you can do your best to avoid accidents. Watch for other drivers who are not paying attention or driving recklessly. If you see somebody speeding or driving too slow, constantly changing lanes, talking on their cell phone, exhibiting signs of road rage, or otherwise behaving and driving erratically, steer clear. Avoid driving near other drivers who appear to be a danger to themselves and others. If you feel the driver is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, make a mental note of the car’s make, model, and color, pull over to a safe and designated parking place, park your car, turn off your engine, and dial 9-1-1 to report the driver to authorities.
There is no excuse for distracted driving, period. You need to stay focused on the road and be a safe and courteous driver so that everyone can travel safely and reach their destination without incident. Make the roads a little safer by avoiding these bad habits:
Don’t use your cell phone when you are in control of the vehicle, and don’t even THINK about sending or reading a text message. If you absolutely need to return a call or answer a message, then take the time to pull off the road before using your phone. There is no message that is important enough to put your life at risk.
Keep the volume on your radio down and don’t scroll through songs on your iPod while driving. One of the best feelings in the world is hitting the open road while listening to your favorite songs, but keep the volume at a reasonable level in order to avoid distractions and make sure that you hear any emergency vehicles that may be coming through.
Do not eat while driving. Operating a vehicle is one of those activities that shouldn’t involve any multi-tasking. No matter how busy you are, don’t try to cram in lunch behind the wheel. You will be putting both yourself and others in harm’s way.
Do not get into an argument while driving or drive while upset. It only takes a split second for a vehicle to turn into a deadly weapon. Safe driving demands your full attention. The last thing you want to do is cause an accident because you were more focused on your passengers or your own emotions.
Pay attention to the road and other drivers around you instead of focusing on your passengers, phone conversation, food, or favorite song. Sure, it’s fun to blast your favorite tune and rock out with your friends in the car; it’s not fun to cause an accident while doing this. You will be at fault and imagine what would happen should the accident cause a fatality. Do not put yourself at risk of ever having to experience something like that. Sending a text to your BFF about that cool outfit you saw at the mall is not THAT important. Never, ever allow yourself to be distracted while you are driving.
Don’t even try it. There really isn’t much more to say. There is absolutely no gray area when it comes to this issue and no excuse that will ever justify driving while impaired. If you are planning on drinking when you go out with friends or head over to the latest party, do NOT get behind the wheel. Even in a best case scenario, you could be charged with drunk driving, lose your driving privileges and have to pay thousands of dollars in court fines and fees. And that is only if you are lucky. A worst case scenario could involve multiple fatalities including the deaths of innocent passengers and other drivers. The risk is simply too great and there and plenty of safe options that will allow you to enjoy a few drinks and still get home safely.
- Do not drink if you are underage.
- If you know you are going to drink, plan ahead. Assign a designated driver. Have the number of a taxi company handy. Use Uber or other services to call for a ride or arrange to stay at a friend’s house so that you don’t even have to worry about getting home.
- Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you are okay to drive because you have only had a few drinks. Drinking and driving is never acceptable.
- Do not ride in the car with a driver who has been drinking. They are obviously not worried about your safety and you are voluntarily putting your life at risk.
A little planning and preparation will allow you to enjoy a night out without all the worries. Paying a few dollars for a taxi is a great deal considering the alternatives.
Just because you have chosen to be responsible and not drink and drive doesn’t mean that other drivers on the road have made the same smart decision. Be aware of erratic drivers, especially late at night. If you notice somebody swerving in their lane, speeding up and slowing down for no apparent reason, changing lanes constantly and in an unsafe manner, or doing other crazy things like driving without their headlights on or getting really aggressive with the cars around them, they might be drunk driving. Make a mental note of the make, model and color of the car and find a safe, designated parking area so that you can shut down your vehicle and call and report them.
You passed your driver’s education course and got your permit. You practiced day and night and learned how to stay safe in the car while driving. You got your license and, SURPRISE! You got a car for your birthday. The world is yours … unless your car breaks down.
Once you’ve mastered safe driving and proven to your parents and your state that you are good to go on your own, you need to keep your car in safe, running condition. This includes performing all of the scheduled maintenance on your car per the instructions in its owner manual. Don’t skip oil changes, do not ever go anywhere without ensuring your tires are properly inflated, and definitely do NOT drive on worn tires; a blowout can lead to a serious accident.
Keeping your car in safe operating condition is one of the responsibilities of being a driver, so before you hit the road, be sure to educate yourself about the basics or your car. Ask your parents to walk you through the basics, read the owner’s manual and look up information online. A little car knowledge can go a long way in ensuring that your vehicle lasts for many years to come and that you don’t end up stranded on the side of the road.
Learn how to check the tire pressure. While it is good to do a visual check, you don’t want to wait till you have a flat before you address low pressure issues. You may have a leak or you may just need to add a little air. Properly inflated tires will provide better gas mileage and a smoother ride.
Check the spare tire and learn how to change a flat. If you do end up with a flat tire, you can always call your insurance company and have roadside assistance come help you put on a spare tire. However, you also need to make sure that you not only actually have a spare tire, but that it is fully inflated. It also never hurts to know how to change a tire yourself. While it may seem intimidating, it is actually quite simple and a handy skill to have.
No one wants to spend time dwelling on worst case scenarios, but a little forethought and preparation can go a long way in making car problems easier to handle. Make sure that you always have a cellphone handy for emergencies. Keep a charger in your car so that you don’t have to worry about a dead phone battery and program the phone numbers of your insurance agent, tow company and local mechanic in your contacts so that you can quickly place a call. You should also invest in an emergency kit that you can keep stored in your trunk. These kits typically include items such as: a flashlight, road flares, jumper cables and all sorts of other handy items that can help in an emergency.
Oil and Fluids
One of the most simple and effective things you can do to maintain your car and keep it running is to regularly check your oil and other important fluids. Even if you are getting regular oil changes, it doesn’t hurt to check and make sure that you don’t have any leaks and that your engine is getting the oil it needs. Also be sure to know where the windshield fluid and coolant reservoirs are in your vehicle so that you can top off these fluids if necessary.
A dead battery is another common car problem that can easily fixed with a little knowledge. Make sure that you have jumper cables in your trunk and take the time to learn how to tell if you battery is dead, where to place the cables, and how long it should take to recharge a battery.
As a new driver, it is now your responsibility to make sure your car’s tires, fluids, pumps and hoses, battery — everything! — is in good, working condition. Be sure to take your car to a trusted mechanic or the dealer on a regular basis for basic maintenance and be sure to learn a few simple things on your own. Start with the simple things and learn how to check and change your tires, check your oil, check your brake, wiper, radiator fluids, and how to safely jump your battery should your car not start. Being able to make simple fixes will keep you safe and prevent little hiccups from turning into big headaches.