Pediatricians and Safe Teen Driving

Car crashes took almost 2,400 teen lives in 2019—that’s an average of seven teen deaths a day among teens aged 13–19. Yet parents are too often unaware of the driving conditions that are most risky for teens.

Parents can play a key role in keeping their teens safe on the road.

Key Steps for Pediatricians

Pediatricians can be valuable partners in helping families address this important health topic. Here are some key steps you can take:

Educate to Reduce Risk

Educate parents and teens about the dangers of teen driving and steps they can take to reduce the risks. Parents and teens should discuss their family’s rules of the road and set consequences for breaking them.

Photo of a pediatrician talking to a parent and teenager

Pediatricians can be valuable partners in helping families address safe teen driving.

Encourage Use of a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement

Encourage parents to reinforce these talks by working with their teen to complete a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement. Download free copies here that you can hand out or make available.

Remind Parents to Lead by Example

Remind parents that they need to lead by example. They can’t wait until their teen is old enough to drive to start modeling good driving behaviors. If parents talk on the phone, text, speed, or don’t always wear a seat belt, teens are more likely to mimic these risky behaviors.

Spread the Word

Spread the word about safe teen driving by distributing free Parents Are the Key materials in waiting and examination rooms.

Include information about safe teen driving on your clinic’s website. Content syndication lets your website visitors have direct access to Parents Are the Key information, without ever leaving your website.

Educate About Vehicle Selection

Teens are more likely than older drivers to drive either smaller or older cars, especially when they own their own vehicle. While it may be tempting to choose a first car for a teen based on price or style, parents should consider a car’s safety features first and foremost. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) publishes a list of affordable vehiclesexternal icon that meet important safety criteria for teens. IIHS also recently released a research paperexternal icon explaining the benefits of newer vehicle technologies such as crash avoidance features and teen-driver-specific technologies, as well as how these technologies have the potential to dramatically reduce teen crashes and associated injuries and deaths.

Reduce the Risks

As a pediatrician, you talk to your patients and their parents about important milestones and their health implications. One such milestone, learning how to drive and getting a driver’s license, comes with great responsibility and risk. Discuss the following key areas with your teen patients and their parents:

Driver Inexperience
photo: father and son in a car

Crash risk is highest in the first year a teen has his or her license. Crash risk is particularly high during the first several months of licensure. Encourage parents to provide at least 30 to 50 hours of supervised driving practice over at least six months. They should practice on a variety of roads, at different times of day, and in varied weather and traffic conditions.

Teen Passengers
photo: boy and girl by a car

Crash risk goes up when teens drive with other teens in the car. Parents should limit their teen to zero or one teen passenger for at least the first six months he or she has a license. Parents can learn about passenger restrictions and other important provisions of their state’s Graduated Driver Licensing system on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s graduated licensing laws by state webpageexternal icon.

Nighttime Driving
cars on a highway at night looking top down

For all ages, fatal crashes are more likely to occur at night, but the risk is higher for teens. Parents should make sure their teen is off the road by 9 or 10 pm for at least the first six months of licensed driving.


Not Using Seat Belts
photo: man buckling seat belt

The simplest way to prevent car crash deaths and injuries is to buckle up. Parents should require their teen to wear a seat belt on every trip and in every seating position. This simple step can reduce their teen’s risk of dying or being seriously injured in a crash by about halfexternal icon. Additionally, encourage parents to set a good example and always buckle up when in the car.


Distracted Driving
photo: phone sitting on front seat of a car

Distractions increase a teen’s risk of being in a crash. Encourage parents to prohibit cell phone use, texting, eating, playing with the radio, and other distracting behaviors while their teen is driving. Remind parents to set a good example by following the same rules in the car.

Drowsy Driving
photo: highway at night

Young drivers are at high risk for drowsy driving. Parents should ensure their teen is well rested before he or she gets behind the wheel. Teens are typically most tired and at risk when driving in the early morning or late at night, so it is best to avoid driving at those times.

Reckless Driving
photo: speed limit sign

Research demonstrates that teens lack the experience, judgment, and maturity to assess risky situations. Parents should stress the importance of avoiding unsafe behaviors, such as speeding or driving too close to the vehicle ahead.

Impaired Driving
photo: man holding a drink handing over his keys

Even small amounts of alcohol will impair a teen’s driving ability and increase crash risk. Many other types of drugs/substances (including marijuana, other illicit drugs, prescription medications, or over-the-counter medications) also have the potential to impair a teen’s ability to drive safely. Talk to teens about the risks of driving after drinking alcohol and/or using other drugs. Also, remind parents to be good role models. They should never drive while impaired by alcohol and/or other substances, and they should reinforce this message with their teen.