teen commuters wearing seat beltsMany parents rejoice that first year their teenage kids are ready to drive themselves to school. It’s a huge step toward independence, which also makes it a great opportunity to build the foundation for good safety habits. Here are 7 tips for teen commuters to help set the tone for the school year and beyond.

1. Practice the route ahead of time with your teen.

Inexperience is the cause of so many crashes involving teen drivers. Encourage your teenager to practice the route before the first day of class and offer to ride along. You can offer the benefit of your experience, pointing out specific dangers and helping them find an alternate route, if needed. This will also help sharpen their intuition, as they’ll remind themselves of the same hazards in the future.

2. Encourage your teen to get a good night’s sleep.

Between busy schedules filled with after-school activities, homework, and other responsibilities, many teens stay up late trying to get everything done. If they’re driving to school the next morning, encourage them to plan for a reasonable bedtime so they aren’t too tired for their commute. Drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.

3. Stress the importance of leaving 10-15 minutes early.

Getting your teenager into the habit of leaving the house early will ease worries about being late for class, which might inspire speeding and other aggressive driving behaviors. Remind them that being ahead of the crowd also means they’ll be less likely to get stuck waiting in line to get into the parking lot.

4. Limit the number of passengers your teen can drive to school.

It’s an exciting time for teens when someone in their peer group gets their license. Some bus riders count the days until they or a friend can drive instead. For your teen’s safety, however, it’s best for you to limit the number of passengers in the car while they drive. Statistics reveal that the risk of a fatal crash approximately doubles for teenage drivers for each additional passenger in the car. This is due to drivers being potentially distracted by passengers or being tempted into riskier behaviors to impress their friends.

5. Emphasize avoiding distractions, especially phones and food.

Be sure your teenager understands the most common distractions while driving so they can avoid them. It should be clear to them that they should never use a handheld cell phone while driving. Teen commuters should also avoid eating or drinking anything while driving. Encourage them to have breakfast at home before they leave for school, rather than grabbing something on the way.

6. Remind your teen that every passenger needs to buckle up.

A surprising number of teenagers don’t wear seat belts when they’re riding with their friends. Make sure your teen understands that car crashes kill teens more than any other cause and that seat belts can save their life. Even if school isn’t far away, it’s important for them to buckle up every time they get behind the wheel. Your teen should also be aware that it is their responsibility as the driver to make sure everyone else wears their seat belt, as well.

7. Make sure they understand bus safety laws that apply to drivers.

Review the school bus safety laws that apply to drivers with your teenager. After all, driving along the same routes as the bus toward the school means they’ll undoubtedly encounter them. In addition to understanding when the law requires them to stop, remind them never to speed past a bus that is signaling to indicate that it is stopping. They may endanger young pedestrians running for the bus. Although kids are taught never to do this, young children aren’t always good at assessing risk.

8. Encourage them to be a good role model for their friends.

Always praise good safety behaviors in your teen commuters and encourage them to set a positive example. They should set the tone every time they get behind the wheel. Ignoring basic safety isn’t cool, it’s reckless.