Riding (and Dying) With Friends

I know there's a lot to read here.  I can't help myself.  I probably talk to much, too.  Just be grateful I'm not in your living room, you know, talking to you.  Because I'm the guy who won't leave.

As I learn more and interact with more and more parents, I become increasingly concerned about parenting around the issue of allowing teenagers to ride with other teenager drivers.  Accordingly, in the 2010 revision the contract, I've added some rules about this.  Parents who have children who are adolescents, but not yet of driving age, might want to take a look at those rules as a basis for dealing with this issue.

Every parent reading this website wants to reduce the chances that their child or children will be hurt of killed in a motor vehicle accident.  Most of this website is about the teenage driver.  But, what about the teenage passenger?   This turns out to be another critical issue with its own set of ugly statistics.  

But let’s leave it simple and easy to remember.  We’ve already established that motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause, by far, of death among young people.  In 2004, 62% of the teenagers who died as passengers, died in a vehicle driven by another teenager driver. 

So, this leads to one of the most common questions I get during the Q&A portion of the workshops I do on this topic.  What kind of rules should I make about my teenager riding in cars with friends?  It’s a great question which is very difficult to translate into hard and fast rules to recommend.  There’s potential for hurt feelings, conflicts among families, and more.

Here are some things to take into account:

1.  How experienced is the driver your child wants to ride with? 
How young? Teenagers, as a group, are more dangerous drivers than are adults.  (And adult drivers are dangerous enough!)  The younger they are and the more inexperienced they are, the more likely they’ll have accidents.

2.  Is this teenage driver ready for a passenger? 
If you allow your child to ride with that teenage driver, that teenage driver will have at least one passenger:  Your child.  As we show elsewhere on this website, few issues are more critical than the presence of passengers in the car with a teenage driver.

3.  How well do you know the teenage driver your child wants to ride with?   This is worth considering, but it's also tricky. Remember, a “good kid” can still be a very dangerous driver.  Chances are slim that you’ve had an opportunity to evaluate that teenager’s driving ability.

4.   Putting driving safety aside for a second, how ready is your child to get in a car and ride around with other teenagers?   Age can trump this whole matter.  A 13 year old has no business getting in the car at night, for social reasons, with a 16 year old driver, no matter how much confidence you have in that 16 year old driver.  (And, I’m hopeful that after going through this website, you won’t have too much confidence in ANY 16 year old driver.)

So, we’ll try to offer some guidance about rules.

1.  Don’t allow your child to ride with a teenage driver until that teenager has had his or her license for a full year.  That means, in most places, don't let them ride with a 16 year old driver. (If that seems excessive to you, make up your own rule by changing it to whatever number of months works for you.  It’s going to be risky no matter what you choose, and so this is partly a matter of how much risk you’re willing to put up with.)

2.  Require the driver to come into your home and speak to you before your child rides with him and after. 
  (I’m just going to use male pronouns here.)  Before the excursion, look the driver in the eye and call him by name.  Tell this young driver that you are entrusting the life of your child with him and you expect him to drive carefully.  Turn to your child and tell your child that their job is to help the driver focus and drive safely.  Tell your child that your child must NOT distract the driver.  Don’t be afraid to be clear and stern with the driver even though this is not your child you're talking to. (I don't recommend threats, tempting though they are),  Don’t be afraid to embarrass your child.  (This is part of your job.)   After the excursion, get face to face with the driver again (and try to get a whiff of his breath while you’re at it.)  Ask them how things went.  If things went well, thank the young driver for bringing your child home safe. 

Now, suppose you hear from the teenager’s parents and they are a bit offended by your direct dealings with their child?   Personally, I’d decline to be apologetic or defensive. What kind of folks would be offended by that?  Clueless ones, I think.

3.  Communicate with the driver’s parents.  This is a tough one.  You have to make up your own mind, based on the individual situation, about calling the parents in advance.  I recommend it.  “My Chloe wants to ride to the mall tonight with your Jason.  Is that ok with you?  Please forgive my nervousness about this.  I know Jason’s a good kid, but I’m worried about the whole teen driving thing.  (Feel free, at this point, to refer them to this website!) Are you feeling good about Jason’s driving skills?”   And, you can go on and ask more questions as your comfort level permits.


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Nearly two-thirds of teenagers who die in car wrecks as passengers, die in vehicles driven by teenage drivers.  What to do about your teenage riding with other teenagers?