young teenage driver behind the wheelYoung drivers are one of the groups most at risk for car crashes. While this is partly due to driver inexperience, it’s also because they are more prone to risky behaviors like speeding, distracted driving, impaired driving, and aggressive driving. Here we cover safety tips for teen drivers related to these issues, plus other suggestions to keep young drivers safe.

Always leave early.

When you’re in a rush, you may be more focused on getting to your destination than driving safely. Make it a habit of always leaving at least 10 minutes earlier than you need to, or even earlier if there is bad weather. If you’re commuting to school, leaving early will also mean getting ahead of most of the traffic on campus. Encountering fewer cars and pedestrians will greatly lower your risk of a crash.

Limit your passengers.

Statistics show that young drivers are especially prone to distraction while driving. When you get your driver’s license, it might be tempting to offer all your friends a ride to school each morning. You should resist this, however. It’s safer to limit the number of passengers you have in your car. For young drivers, the risk of a fatal crash approximately doubles with the addition of each passenger.

Buckle up!

This means you and everyone else riding in your car. When you’re driving, take charge and remind your friends that it’s the law. Take a stand and do not start the car until all your passengers have fastened their seat belts.

Turn off your phone and put it away.

If buckling up is the first thing you do when you get behind the wheel, putting your phone away should always be the second. Turn it off and put it in your purse or pocket so that you won’t be tempted to look at it while driving. If you need to use your phone for directions, you will need to use a hands-free system to comply with the current Maryland cell phone laws. You should never be texting, e-mailing, or anything else that involves handling your phone or looking at its screen while driving.

Don’t eat or drink while driving.

These are also common distractions that potentially take your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, and your focus off of traffic. If you and your friends go through the drive-through, stop and eat your meal. While the car is in motion, your full attention and concentration should always be on driving.

Don’t drive drowsy.

Drowsy driving doesn’t get the same attention that impaired driving gets, though the effects are comparable. Even missing a few hours of sleep can increase your chances of a crash. It’s tough getting enough sleep as a teenager or college student, especially if you’ve stayed up late due to work or school. Be mindful of your energy and be sure you’re well-rested before you drive.

Limit driving at night.

In some states, there are limitations on teen drivers driving after dark due to the sharp increase in crashes and fatalities, especially between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. Avoid driving at these times if possible.

Carry an emergency kit.

You can either buy a pre-made emergency kit or assemble your own. The contents you need will largely depend on where you’re driving (rural, suburban, or urban areas), what the weather is like, and how far you will be from home, but at minimum, we recommend:

  • Jumper cables.
  • Road flares or triangle reflectors.
  • Flashlight, plus extra batteries.
  • Toolkit that contains a screwdriver, wrench, pliers, and pocket knife.
  • Tire pressure gauge.
  • First aid kit.
  • A blanket.

You should also carry extra coolant, motor oil, windshield fluid, and a container of water. A can of Fix-a-Flat can also save you in a pinch if you get a flat tire.

Other useful items include pen and paper, bottled water to drink, and paper towels. It never hurts to carry a charger cable and battery pack for your phone, too, in case you need to call for assistance.

Never Drink and Drive

If you’re a teen driver, you shouldn’t be drinking at all. Despite that, 3.5% of DUI arrests in 2015 were drivers under the age of 21.The state of Maryland has a zero tolerance policy for underage drinkers caught driving. Drunk drivers cause thousands of crashes on our roads each year. It’s never worth the risk. You should understand that getting a DUI can have lifelong consequences, too, even if you come away physically unharmed.

Always Drive Defensively

Aggressive driving is also common among young drivers. From your first days behind the wheel, you should understand the benefits of driving defensively. You should never tailgate, make excessive lane changes, or unnecessarily pass other drivers. You should always heed the speed limit, yield right of way to other drivers, and signal your intentions.

Drive a Safe Car

An old, inexpensive car might seem better than no car at all to many young drivers. You should be aware, however, that safety standards for cars are constantly improving. A car manufactured in the last three years is going to protect you better in a crash than one that is twenty years old. Older models might seem to be built like tanks, but they lack side airbags and many of the other features that would protect your body in a collision. Take responsibility for investigating the safety record of the car you drive. Your life may depend on it.

Take Responsibility for Your Safety

As an adult hands you the car keys for the first time, they’ll likely remind you that driving is a privilege and that having a driver’s license comes with responsibility. This is true, and one of your greatest responsibilities is to safety. You need to obey all traffic laws, respect other drivers, and drive safely. Take these responsibilities seriously every time you get in the car. Such commitments from young drivers will make all our roads safer in the years to come.