How to Tell When Your Kid Is Ready to Drive Alone

Tips for Helping Teens Be Safe

Among the rules to set in your teen-parent driving agreement is no texting or talking on the phone while driving.
Among the rules to set in your teen-parent driving agreement is no texting or talking on the phone while driving.

As with so many other parenting practices, the best thing you can do for your teen driver is establish who's in charge (that's you). In this case, you're looking at two main approaches: Establishing driving rules and controlling access to the car [source: Teen Driver Source].

"Controlling access" essentially means your teen does not have a car. A 2009 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that over the course of one year, teen drivers who shared a family car were half as likely to be in a car accident as those who had their own [source: Shute]. So consider holding off on adding another vehicle to your roster (or else just hold on to the keys).

When it comes to the setting the rules, it can be helpful to draw up a parent-teen driving agreement. This is a document, signed by you and your child, listing the terms of your teen's driving privileges – the rules your child must follow both on and off the road, and the specific consequences of breaking them. Ideally, you'll draft it together, which makes it more likely the rules will be followed [source: Teen Driver Source].

The most common rules are obvious ones, like always wearing a seatbelt, never driving under the influence, obeying traffic laws and never texting while driving. Off the road, your teen may have to maintain certain grades and/or contribute a certain amount toward the car insurance.

Some other important considerations include [source: CDC]:

  • Passenger limits
  • Dealing with distractions (music, food, drink, cell phones)
  • Off-limits hours (late at night, typically)
  • Who pays for any tickets (your teen does)

Finally, there is the high-tech approach. You can, in fact, know exactly what kind of driver your child is when you're not around. Electronic monitoring is available in many forms, including GPS-based apps and in-car units that tap into a car's computer diagnostics. They can let parents know, sometimes in real time, when their kids speed or slam on the brakes. They can be notified when the car is in use after curfew or stops at an unplanned destination. Some systems even provide in-car video and sound [source: Doheny].

If you add this to your overall plan – it's a supplement, not a solution – your teen may be exasperated but it may also decrease her likelihood of speeding, indulging in distractions, and becoming a statistic [source: Doheny].

Whatever safety plan you settle on, remember to review it together periodically, and consider making changes as your teen becomes a more experienced driver. The goal, after all, is independence.

Author's Note: How to Tell When Your Kid Is Ready to Drive Alone

My first thought when I saw the title of this article was, "It's easy. Look for 30 candles on her birthday cake." I myself was a terrible teen driver, and I dread the day my daughter gets her license. In the course of my research, though (and it is amazing how many teen-driving resources are out there), I did start to feel somewhat less helpless about it, because I learned that my parents, wonderful as they were and are, did a lot of things "wrong" in this context. I came away understanding that their choices about my driving may have affected my choices behind the wheel. And my choices may affect my daughter's. So I hope this article leaves anxious parents feeling more empowered – and nonchalant ones more afraid. It is nothing short of a miracle that I made it to 17.

Related Articles


  • Bosari, Jessica. "5 Signs Your Teen is Ready for a Car." Forbes. March 22, 2012. (Oct. 15, 2013)
  • Centers for Disease Control. "Parent-Teen Driving Agreement." (Oct. 24, 2013)
  • The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "New Study Pinpoints What Happens Right Before Teens Crash." April 11, 2011. (Oct. 15, 2013)
  • Doheny, Kathleen. "Car Tracking Devices for Teen Drivers." Edmunds. May 23, 2013. (Oct. 20, 2013)
  • Governors Highway Safety Administration. "Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Laws." October 2013. (Oct. 21, 2013)
  • Linn, Allison. "Endangered Species? Why Fewer Teens Are Driving." CNBC. July 12, 2013. (Oct. 31, 2013).
  • McBride, Hugh C. "A Matter of Maturity: Is Your Teen Ready to Get Behind the Wheel?" Aspen Education Group. (Oct. 18, 2013)
  • National Institutes of Health. "Preventing Teen Motor Crashes: Characteristics of Adolescence That Can Affect Driving." 2007. (Oct. 18, 2013)
  • Shute, Nancy. "Parents Keep Teen Drivers Safe When They Control the Car Keys." U.S. News & World Report. Sept. 28, 2009. (Oct. 24, 2013)
  • Teen Driver Source. "Developing Driving Skills." (Oct. 15, 2013)
  • Teen Driver Source. "Comprehensive Graduated Driver Licensing: General Statistics." (Oct. 30, 2013)
  • Teen Driver Source. "Is Your Teen Ready to Drive Alone?" (Oct. 15, 2013)
  • Texting and Driving Safety. "DWI: Driving While Intexticated." (Oct. 20, 2013)