Staying Safe in the Car: A Teen Driving Guide

Written by: Nicholas Brit
Nothing is more exciting than getting your driver's license -- FREEDOM! Nothing is more devastating than getting into a car accident or, worse yet, causing a fatal car accident. Yes, a certain amount of freedom does come with getting a driver's license but, more importantly, a tremendous amount of responsibility also accompanies the wallet-sized card with the picture you hate on it. A vehicle is a mode of transportation but also a deadly weapon when driven improperly. Be responsible and show that you deserve that license, and a car, by staying safe in the car at all times.

Learning to Drive

The first step in getting a driver's license is learning to drive. But, it's not as easy as it seems. Learning to drive a car goes beyond getting the hang of controlling a vehicle. Driving students must also learn about offensive driving, defensive driving, how to drive in different weather conditions, and to ensure the vehicle is road-ready before you even get behind the wheel … and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Don't just go to an empty parking lot with a parent and start trying to drive around. You are required to take a driver's education course first, and then apply for your driving permit with your state's motor vehicle department before you can get behind the wheel. Driver's education courses can be taken in a classroom or online. Make sure you enroll in an approved program by getting a list of driver's education providers from your state's DMV. Once you've successfully completed your driver's education, take your paperwork to the DMV to get your permit. Now, it's time to tackle those empty parking lots.

Defensive Driving Tips

"The best defense is a good offense." This old adage rings true when driving, as well, and ties offensive and defensive driving together. In other words, in order to drive defensively you must drive offensively. You are your worst enemy behind the wheel, and you must defend against yourself. The number one rule in defensive driving is pay attention -- not only to what is going on around, but also to your own driving. When you pay attention to yourself, you are taking your offense under control and this enables you to drive defensively. Watch yourself first, and then keep a wary eye on what is going on around you. Don't just stare ahead at the car in front of you, make sure you keep an eye on what is happening in front of him; this better prepares you to take action should something happen three or four cars ahead. Look in your rear-view and side mirrors often so you know what is going on around and behind you. Always look both ways before entering an intersection, and never, ever proceed in making a turn without looking forward after you have confirmed there are no cars coming in the opposite direction -- you might hit a pedestrian crossing the street if you are still looking to the left, for example, when making a right-hand turn. Always watch for other drivers who are not paying attention or driving recklessly. If you see somebody speeding or driving too slow, constantly changing lanes, talking on their cell phone, exhibiting signs of road rage, or otherwise behaving and driving erratically, steer clear. Avoid driving near other drivers who appear to be a danger to themselves and others. If you feel the driver is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, make a mental note of the car's make, model, and color, pull over to a safe and designated parking place, park your car, turn off your engine, and dial 9-1-1 to report the driver to authorities.

Distracted Driving

There is no excuse for distracted driving, period. Don't use your cell phone when you are in control of the vehicle, and don't even THINK about sending or reading a text message. Keep your music volume down. Do not eat while driving. Do not get into an argument while driving. Pay attention to the road and other drivers around you instead of focusing on your passengers, phone conversation, food, or favorite song. Sure, it's fun to blast your favorite tune and rock out with your friends in the car; it's not fun to cause an accident while doing this. You will be at fault and imagine what would happen should the accident cause a fatality. Do not put yourself at risk of ever having to experience something like that. Sending a text to your BFF about that cool outfit you saw at the mall is not THAT important. Never, ever allow yourself to be distracted while you are driving. Remember, a vehicle can be a means to get you where you want to go, but it can also be a weapon.

Drunk Driving

Don't even try it. There really isn't much more to say. If you are planning on drinking when you go out with friends or head over to the latest party, do NOT get behind the wheel. It is not worth risking your driving privileges and, more importantly, yours or somebody else's life. If you are planning on drinking, assign the driving to a designated driver who is sticking to the coke that night without the rum. You not driving drunk isn't the only way to stay safe in your car after a late night, however. Watch out for other drunk drivers. If you notice somebody swerving in their lane, speeding up and slowing down for no apparent reason, changing lanes constantly and in an unsafe manner, or doing other crazy things like driving without their headlights on or getting really aggressive with the cars around them, they might be drunk driving. Again, make a mental note of the make, model and color of the car and find a safe, designated parking area so that you can shut down your vehicle and call and report them.

Car Maintenance

You passed your driver's education course and got your permit. You practiced day and night and learned how to stay safe in the car while driving. You got your license and, SURPRISE! You got a car for your birthday. The world is yours … unless your car breaks down. Once you've mastered safe driving and proven to your parents and your state that you are good to go on your own, you need to keep your car in safe, running condition. This includes performing all of the scheduled maintenance on your car per the instructions in its owner manual. Don't skip oil changes, do not ever go anywhere without ensuring your tires are properly inflated, and definitely do NOT drive on worn tires; a blowout can lead to a serious accident. Keeping your car in safe operating condition is one of the responsibilities of being a driver. You need to make sure your car's tires, fluids, pumps and hoses, battery -- everything! -- is in good, working condition. If you are a car aficionado who loves to tinker on your baby during the weekends, you can probably check your tires, fluid levels, pumps and hoses yourself. Not so much? Take it to a trusted mechanic or the dealer on a regular basis to make sure everything is up to snuff so you don't end up stranded somewhere late at night in a broken-down car -- this is not safe! Learn a few simple things on your own -- yes, even ladies need to know this! Learn how to check and change your tires, check your oil, check your brake, wiper, radiator fluids, and how to safely jump your battery should your car not start. Nobody should get on the road without mastering these simple mechanics. Now, get out there and DRIVE SAFE!