5 Ways To Make A Safe Driver of Your Teen

Erika Stalder, author of In the Driver's Seat: A Girl's Guide To Her First Car

So your daughter is about to turn 16. Such a sweet, sa-weet time in her life. Finally she gets to drive herself to parties and leave when she's good and ready. She gets to command the stereo in the car. She IS queen of the road. Even if you've been blessed with a daughter who earns top grades, is an all-star athlete and keeps her room relatively clean, her sweet 16 can be scary for you. After all, she gets to drive herself to parties, she is commandeering a multi-ton hunk of machinery at speeds up to 65mph and she gets to deal with the other crazies on the road. Who wouldn't freak, at least a little?

While we can't quite turn back the hands of time (there's no miracle age-reversal creams for growing kids), we can prep teens to enjoy their new responsibility in the safest manner, all while avoiding some of the mother/daughter meltdowns that can occur along the way. Here are a few tips to avoid the screaming fights and nightmarish repossessing-of-the-keys scenarios that come with a set of wheels and newly-licensed daughters.

*Draw a Contract
Nobody likes to be at the short end of a dictatorship and your daughter is no different. Instead of coming at her with a laundry list of driving don'ts, work with your daughter to create a set of house rules for using her car or borrowing yours.

If your daughter is rolling the family ride, the two of you should establish rules for how the car should be left after it's used (don't return the car with less than 1/4 tank of gas), who gets to ride inside (no more than two friends at a time, for example) and who is in charge of certain maintenance (she washes the car once a week, while you're in charge of checking the oil). If your daughter is driving her own car, consider establishing protocol for what should happen if she damages the car or gets a traffic violation, slacks on upkeep, or texts while driving.

After establishing rules with your teen, draw up a contract and have each party sign. After all, it's a bit harder for your teen to contest the rules down the road, when she helped create them. Parent/Teen driving agreement examples can be found online. The Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety offers one to download for free.

*Hit the Books
Whether your daughter is sharing the family vehicle or is lucky enough to have her own first car, sit with her one afternoon and review the info in her car's manual. These suckers can tell you everything from what grade of engine oil the car uses to where the jacking point is located in case she needs to change a flat. Use sticky tabs to mark these vital pages for quick reference in emergency situations

*Go Shopping
Stock her ride with a homemade emergency kit that includes breakdown must-haves and a few extras. Fill a tote bag or tackle box with a flashlight, jumper cables, needle nose pliers (perfect for gripping tiny fuses), light-colored rags or paper towels, a few wrenches, a microfleece blanket, extra engine oil, water and a few extras--like cab fare, an emergency cellphone, throwaway camera (great for taking pics after a fender-bender), and a few snack bars. An old gardening bag (so many exterior pockets!) can be make a great holder for all that emergency gear.

*Boost Her Phonebook
Make sure your daughter has programmed all the vital emergency numbers into her cell phone AND created a hard copy to be kept with her car manual (in case she experiences an emergency when out of range). Include numbers for roadside assistance, her insurance company, family numbers and friends who could help in an emergency, the local police number and the number of your family mechanic.

*School her in Street Smarts
If your daughter is out and about all by her lonesome, be sure she's got the skills to navigate the streets smartly. Encourage her to park under streetlights or closest to storefront entrances, drive in the middle or left lanes (to avoid potentially dangerous street corner loiterers when idling at stop signs), always keep the car locked and gadgets and valuables stashed out of sight (even in good neighborhoods), trip plan ahead of time to prevent getting lost or fumbling with a faulty GPS in an unfamiliar area and stay alert when walking to and from her parked car (staying aware of those around her with keys and phone ready in hand).

Erika Stalder is a Northern California-based freelance writer who covers all things teen. She has penned four nonfiction life guides for teens, covering topics from dating to fashion. Her latest book, IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT, A GIRL'S GUIDE TO HER FIRST CAR is designed to turn new drivers into savvy ones. It's packed with info on buying and insuring a car, learning what's under the hood and how it works, choosing a mechanic, fixing minor problems, surviving emergency situations and styling your ride. Erika also blogs about teen driving on the book's companion site, Girl's First Car and is planning a speaking tour in early 2010 to talk to teens about driving. When not focusing on car wonders and woes, Erika dishes dating and life advice for teens as part of ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teen website.