Teenage Driving Safety: Teaching Youth About Potential Consequences

Safety isn't something that teens like to think about. Immature brain development, specifically of the prefrontal cortex, makes teens more vulnerable to feeling distress when pushed by their peers to perform risky behaviors. This means that they're more likely than adults to engage in risky behaviors even though they understand the risk. So how can parents who are handing over keys to their teens teach them to be safe?

Safety can be a difficult idea for teens to grasp. Sometimes, they just can't seem to “get” the realities behind the risk of texting while driving, driving under the influence, and other similar risky driving behaviors. Parents may be able to reach their teens on a deeper level by having a discussion of the potential consequences of their behaviors. This guide is intended to give an overview of the laws and consequences that affect teen drivers.

When reading this guide, be sure to remember that each state has its own unique laws, and the purpose of this guide is to provide an overview of what you can expect to find. Always check with your local DMV to determine the specific laws in your state when talking with your teen.

Laws Created to Target Common Youth Mistakes

As you look at modern driving laws, it's easy to see how some of these come specifically because of the actions and mistakes of past young drivers. Here are some of the laws you will want to discuss with your teen, and the consequences behind them.

Graduated Drivers License Systems

Many states are adopting graduated driver's licensing systems to limit the amount of freedom given to immature drivers. Most graduated drivers licensing programs take young drivers through three stages. These are:

  • Learner Stage - The "learner's permit" stage allows drivers to drive under supervision. Often, they must gather a specific number of hours of experience during this stage or take driver's education classes.
  • Intermediate Stage - In the intermediate stage, drivers can drive unsupervised, but not in high-risk situations. For instance, drivers might not be allowed to drive after a curfew or with peers in the car.
  • Full Privilege Stage - This is a standard, adult driver's license. The length of time that the driver must remain in the Intermediate Stage varies significantly by state, and age is also considered.

Some of the things banned in the Intermediate Stage in different states include:

  • Cell phone use is banned in 38 states and D.C.
  • Nighttime driving is banned in all states except Vermont
  • Almost all states restrict the number of passengers an intermediate driver can have while driving

For more information about graduated driver's license programs, visit:


Safety Belt Laws

Wearing a seatbelt is no longer an optional thing. It's the law in every state. Unfortunately, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use of any age group, and many deaths occur as a result. Here are some facts and pieces of information you can share with your teen to encourage them to be compliant with seat belt safety laws.

  • When used properly, a seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury to those in the front seat of a vehicle by 45 percent.
  • Over half of the teens who die each year in are accidents aren't wearing proper seat belts.
  • In 2015, 61% of high school students only admitted to wearing seat belts properly.
  • All states except New Hampshire have either primary or secondary seat belt laws.
  • In states with primary seat belt safety laws, failure to wear a seatbelt is reason enough for the driver to be pulled over.
  • In states with secondary seat belt laws, police can't pull the river over for not wearing seatbelt, but can cite the driver if no seatbelt is used when stopped for a different violation.
  • Use of a seat belt is the most effective way to reduce the risk of fatal and non-fatal injury in a vehicle crash.

The bottom line is this: seat belt use saves lives, and is the law in all but one state. Teens who don't wear seat belts not only put their lives at risk, but also their risk of a serious citation. For more information about seat belt laws, visit:


Drinking and Driving Laws

Drinking and driving laws have tough, long-lasting penalties. Teen drivers who are tempted to give in to peers when out at parties or other events need to clearly understand the risks they take on when they drink and drive. According to the National Highways Safety Administration, about 1,155 people under the age of 21 die due to underage drinking and car crashes. This is a difficult reality, and one that must be addressed to keep teens safe. Some of these include:

  • Risk of losing the license - DUI or DWI charges can lead to a loss of driving privileges.
  • Hefty fees - The average DMV fee for a drunk driving charge is $260.
  • Hefty fines - The average court fees and fines for drunk driving is $1,100.
  • Increased insurance penalties - A DUI will cause an increase in car insurance, and insurance for teen drivers is already high as it is. You don't want to make that cost go up.
  • Traffic school - A drunk driving charge often means the driver has to attend driving school, which adds to the costs of the charge
  • Criminal record - Driving under the influence is a crime that goes on the driver's record, and this is something that future employers, colleges, and landlords will see when they perform a background check.

For more information about the penalties associated with drunk driving, visit:


Cell Phone Use

Cell phone use is a hot topic among parents and law enforcement alike. Texting and driving or talking on the phone and driving is extremely dangerous, leading to 1.6 million crashes every single year. In fact, 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States involves texting and driving, and texting while driving increases the risk of a crash by 6 times. Every day, 11 teenagers are killed because of texting and driving. To help combat this, many states have created texting and driving laws. Here's what you need to know about them:

  • 14 states, Washington D.C., and 3 territories have banned all hand-held cell phone use while driving.
  • 37 states ban cell phone use of any kind, including hands-free, for novice or teen drivers.
  • 46 states, Washington, D.C., and 3 territories have banned text messaging while driving.
  • If cell phone use was considered a cause for an accident, the penalties are more stringent.
  • In many states, officers can cite a driver simply for cell phone use, even if no traffic violation occurs.

So just how risky is cell phone use? Here are some facts that your teen might find interesting:

  • Sending or receiving a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. That's long enough to travel the length of a football field when traveling 55 mph.
  • Text messaging creates a 23 times higher risk of a crash than driving without distraction.
  • As much as 21 percent of crashes involve talking on the cell phone.
  • Just talking on a cell phone increases the risk of a crash by 4 times.

For more information about cell phone use while driving laws, visit:

Vehicle Inspections

In many states, vehicle inspections are required in order to drive safely. In fact, 32 states require safety inspections or emissions inspections of some sort. Teen drivers need to be aware of these inspections as well as regular vehicle maintenance to ensure they're safe and legal on the road. Here's what you can talk to your teen about when it comes to vehicle inspections:

  • Make sure all vehicles carry inspections stickers if required by your state or municipality.
  • Ensure that the car has no warning lights on before driving.
  • If your vehicle shows a red warning light, get immediate attention from a mechanic. If it shows a yellow warning light, the situation is far less urgent.
  • Check the oil change recommendations, and keep up with this regular maintenance check, to keep the car in good working condition.
  • Check the condition and inflation of the tires before heading out on the road, and don't leave in a vehicle with unsafe tires.

For more information about vehicle inspections and maintenance, visit:


What to Do in an Accident 

Finally, when talking to your teen it's important for them to know what to do in the case of an accident. An accident makes your teen feel frightened, and they're not going to know what to do. Taking the wrong action could limit your young driver's right to get compensation, and also increase the risk of further injury. That's why you need to talk about what to do before an accident happens. Here's what you need to teach your teen to do after an accident:

  • Get Calm - Before doing anything else, take a moment to get calm. Panicking will cause you to make mistakes that could cause further problems or another accident.
  • Check for Injuries - The first thing to do after an accident is to check for any serious injuries. Never move someone who appears to have a back or neck injury, but call for help immediately if there are serious injuries. If someone knows first aid and can apply first aid to victims, allow this.
  • Call the Police - Next, call the police to alert them to the crash. They will help move the wreckage off the road and take reports that will be important for insurance purposes later. Your teen should tell the police their name and phone number, what happened, and where it happened.
  • Don't Leave the Scene - Drivers need to stay on the scene of the accident until released by the police. If your teen were to leave, then he could be charged with a hit-and-run. This can also hurt your ability to make an insurance claim about the accident.
  • Move out of the Roadway - If possible, your teen and the other drivers should move the      vehicles out of the roadway. If that's not possible, but they can exit the vehicle, they should exit and go to the side of the road. This will limit the risk of an additional crash.
  • Gather Information - Get the name, license number, contact information, and insurance information from other drivers who were involved in the crash. Your teen will need to provide the same information in return.
  • Take Pictures - If your teen has a phone, remind him to take pictures of the damage. This can be important evidence if there's a dispute later.
  • Call Your Insurance - Once the police are on the way and all injured parties have been attended to, call your insurance company. You may want to have your teen let you do this, but do so as early as possible. Discuss the facts of the collision, but don't admit fault or guilt on behalf o the driver.
  • Never Admit Fault - Even if your teen knows they were at fault, remind them not to admit it. Driving laws are specific, and sometimes a driver who seems to be at fault isn't at fault according to the law.

For more information on what to do after a crash, visit:

How a Bad Driving Record Affects Your Future

In addition to the fines and other penalties involved in a traffic citation, a bad driving record has additional penalties that are particularly stringent and far-reaching for teens. Once you have a driving record with a serious problem on it, you will find that future goals are difficult to reach. Here are some ways that your driving record can create serious problems for your future, and these may be factors that will deter your teen from engaging in risky behaviors.

  • Increased Car Insurance Rates - Even something as simple as a speeding ticket can cause      insurance rates to jump by as much as 20 percent. A DUI can create a 300 percent increase. This increase will last for years, especially if the teen gets labeled as a high-risk driver.
  • Arrest Record - Serious traffic violations, like DUIs, can lead to an arrest. An arrest becomes a mar on your permanent record that's difficult to shake.
  • License Suspension - Your teen is enjoying the newfound freedom that comes with a driver's license. Serious driving offenses can actually cause your child's license to be suspended – which means not only less fun, but more difficulty getting to school or work. This fear alone may be enough to deter unwanted reckless behavior.
  • Difficulty of Finding a Job - A serious driving infraction or a history of small infractions can make it difficult to find a job. Any job that focuses on driving, like delivery driver or even a job driving a company car, is going to be harder to get. Some employers look poorly on driving infractions, even if the job doesn't require driving. Because the record will follow your teen for years, this is a far-reaching consequence.
  • Certain Careers Become Impossible - Does your child dream of a career in law enforcement? What about aviation? Some high-level careers in law and transportation will not consider someone with a serious driving infraction, DUI, or criminal record.
  • Difficulty Getting Into School - Colleges, universities, law school programs, medical school and other professional schools will do background checks on students they are considering. In particularly competitive schools, something like a DUI can make it impossible to get in.
  • Problems Finding an Apartment - Landlords look at criminal records, and if you have something on your record, you may not be able to get an apartment. If your teen is thinking about the future, this might deter unwanted behavior.

For more information about the long-term consequences of a driving infraction, visit:

Additional Resources for Further Reading