Young drivers (16–20) are one of the most at-risk groups 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 are several safety tips for teen drivers related to these issues, plus other suggestions to keep them safe.

1.   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 during poor weather. If you’re commuting to school, leaving early can be instrumental in getting ahead of traffic. Encountering fewer cars and pedestrians will lower your risk of a crash.

2.   Limit your passengers

Statistics show teen drivers are especially prone to distraction while driving. When you get your driver’s license, it might be tempting to offer your friends a ride to school before and after school. You should resist this temptation. It is much safer to limit extra passengers. For young drivers, the risk of a fatal crash increases exponentially with the addition of each passenger. Maryland’s graduated driver licensing (GDL) restrictions prohibit passengers in vehicles with young drivers. Provisional license holders under the age of 18 ​may not drive with passengers under the age of 18, other than immediate family members, for the first 151 days, without a qualified supervising driver.

3.   Buckle up

This means you and everyone else riding in your car. When you’re driving, take charge and remind your friends that wearing a seat belt is the best way to protect themselves in a crash and — it’s the law. Take a stand and do not start the car until all your passengers have fastened their seat belts.

4.   Put your phone away

If buckling up is the first thing you do when you get behind the wheel, putting your phone away should be the second. Set up an auto-reply to let others know you’re driving and put the phone out of reach so that you won’t be tempted to reach for it. If you need to use your phone’s GPS, ensure you’re doing so with a hands-free setup to comply with Maryland’s cellphone laws. If you must use your cellphone, exit the roadway and find a safe place to park first—don’t stop on the shoulder.

5.   Limit distractions

Eating, drinking, changing the radio station, and talking with passengers in the vehicle are common distractions that could make you take your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel and your focus off of traffic. When your vehicle is in motion, your full attention and concentration should always be on driving. While you may not be able to eliminate distractions entirely, being aware of these risk factors will improve your focus when driving.

6.   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. If you find yourself nodding off as you drive, exit the roadway to a safe location, stop and get some sleep.

7.   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 midnight and 6 a.m. In Maryland, provisional drivers under the age of 18 may not drive between midnight and 5 a.m. unless they are accompanied by a licensed driver over the age of 21 or they are driving to or from a job, school activity or other sanctioned event.

8.   Carry an emergency kit

You can buy a pre-made emergency kit or assemble your own. The contents 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. At a minimum, we recommend:

  • Jumper cables
  • Road flares or triangle reflectors
  • Flashlight, plus extra batteries
  • Toolkit that contains a screwdriver, wrench, pliers and pocketknife
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • First aid kit
  • Blanket
  • Water and non-perishable snacks

You should also consider carrying extra coolant, motor oil and windshield washer fluid. A tire kit can save you in a pinch if you get a flat tire. Other useful items include pen and paper, paper towels and duct tape. It never hurts to carry a charger cable and battery pack for your phone, too, in case you need to call for assistance.

9.   Never Drink and Drive

If you’re a teen driver, you shouldn’t be drinking at all. Despite that, 29% of drivers 15-to-20 who were killed in crashes in 2020 had alcohol in their system. Maryland has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinkers caught driving. Impaired drivers cause thousands of crashes on our roads each year. It’s never worth the risk. You should also understand that getting a DUI can have lifelong consequences, even if you come away physically unharmed.

10. Always Drive Defensively

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 obey the speed limit, yield the right of way to other drivers and use turn signals.

11. Drive a Safe Car

An older, inexpensive car might seem better than no car at all for 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 20 years old. Older models might seem to be built like tanks, but they lack advanced airbag systems and many of the other features that would protect your body in a collision. Take responsibility for investigating the safety features of the car you drive. Your life could depend on it.

12. Take Responsibility for Your Safety

When an adult gives 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 significant responsibility.  The decisions you make behind the wheel could mean life or death for you, your passenger(s) and others on the road. You must obey all traffic laws, respect other drivers and drive safely. Take this responsibility seriously every time you get in the car. Your commitment to driving safely — and encouraging your friends to do the same — will have a dramatic impact on the safety of our roads.