Driving Safety: General Information

Young women's version of this guide

Portrait of driver young man

Do you have your driver’s permit or license or are you getting ready to take the test? Congratulations! Being able to drive can make it a lot easier to hang out with your friends, get to school, work, and do errands. It’s great to enjoy your independence, but most importantly, be safe when you’re behind the wheel.

The Facts:

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Six teens ages 16 to 19 die every day from motor vehicle injuries. Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.

Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States.

  • Compared with other drivers, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use.
  • Crash risk is the highest during the first year that a teenager has his/her license.
  • Per mile driven, teen drivers between the ages of 16-19 are three times more likely than drivers 20 years and older to be in a fatal crash.
  • Every day 6 teens between 16-19 years old die from motor vehicle injuries and many more suffer from injuries related to car crashes.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving means any activity that takes your attention away from driving safely. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists three main types of distraction: visual (when you take your eyes off of the road), manual (when you take your hands off of the steering wheel, and cognitive (when you take your mind off of driving). Texting and talking on the phone are major driving distractions and illegal in many states however, there are other activities such as talking to others in the car, changing stations on the radio, putting on makeup, shaving, eating, and daydreaming that are also dangerous. In fact, ANYTHING that takes your eyes, hands or mind off the road is considered distracted driving. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2020there were a 3,142 people killed in motor vehicle accidents due to a distracted driver.

Most car accidents are preventable when you take precautions and make safe choices.

How can I become a good driver?

Becoming a good driver takes time and experience. Taking a “Driver’s Ed” class is a smart way to get started and prepare for your written exam and get the experience you’ll need before you take your road test. In fact, once a permit is issued to a teen, many states require driver education classes to be taken. These programs, whether given at school or through a private business, require both classroom hours and time “behind-the-wheel” (actual driving). Some behind-the-wheel time will be with the instructor, and some with a parent or other adult. Check out the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) regulations for your state. Another added bonus of taking Driver’s Ed is that the cost of your parent’s car insurance (or your own) may be reduced after you complete the training.

Before you turn the key in the ignition:

  1. Spend time sitting in the driver’s seat of the car you’ll be driving. Adjust the seat height and angle of the seat back until you’re comfortable but fully able to remain alert!
  2. Become familiar with the dashboard and settings and what all the symbols mean including the warning lights
  3. Practice turning on the windshield wipers (before it rains)
  4. Locate the emergency brake
  5. Locate the gas tank and learn how to open it and pump gas
  6. Learn about the basic parts of the car and where they are located (engine, battery, etc.)
  7. Adjust the side and rear view mirrors so that you can see the cars behind you and from either side of you
  8. Check to make sure your headlights and high beams work
  9. Find out how to check the tire pressure
  10. Find out where the “car instruction manual” is kept

When you’re first learning how to drive

Driving can be scary and nerve-wracking in the beginning. Whether you practice driving with your teacher, your parent/guardian, a sibling, or another adult, the more you drive the more comfortable and skilled you will become. When you are first learning, you’ll be most comfortable driving on clear, sunny days in areas close to home, without a lot of traffic. Eventually, you’ll be ready to try driving on bigger roads, at night, and in different weather conditions such as rain or snow.

Remember: Never drive anywhere without a trusted adult when you are first learning how to drive.

Driving Safety Tips:

  • Always wear your seatbelt whether you’re the driver or passenger; every car, every time!
  • Follow your state’s laws about when you can drive and with whom. If you don’t follow the rules and you get stopped by the police, you can have your permit taken away or lose your license even before your driving career begins.
  • Always turn off your cell phone; it’s distracting and will take your attention away from the road.
  • Never ever text while driving – know your state’s laws and the legal consequences. (For more information on the risks of using a cell phone while driving, check out The Digital Wellness Laboratory’s guide on mobile devices.)
  • Never use earphones; you’ll need to be able to hear sounds such as horns and sirens.
  • Avoid changing the music while driving. If you’re listening to music, keep it at a reasonable volume so you can hear sirens, car horns, and other noises.
  • If you need to make a call or do something that requires your full attention, pull over to a well-lit, safe area.
  • NEVER use drugs or alcohol before or while driving.
  • If you are sleepy, pull over to a safe area. If you have alternative licensed drivers in the car, ask them to drive.
  • Always keep a safe distance between you and the car in front of you (this will give you plenty of space to stop if the car ahead of you stops suddenly).
  • Know the speed limit of the road you are driving on and be sure to follow it.
  • Be sure to have an Emergency Plan– know how to contact your parent(s)/guardian(s) or another responsible adult, in case you have car trouble or you get lost.
Never get into a car if the driver has been drinking or using drugs. Always have a designated driver whom you can trust to remain sober and straight. In many states, there are consequences for being the passenger in a car in which alcohol or drugs are found or used.

What should I keep in the car?

Keep the following items in the car or in your wallet when you are driving:

  • Your license
  • Car registration
  • Name and phone number of your insurance company
  • A card with a list of emergency contacts (parent(s) or guardian(s), car owners)
  • Your ID card, if you have a membership to a roadside assistance plan (such as AAA)
  • Flashlight, batteries, and jumper cables; and a shovel (during the winter in snowy climates)
  • Blanket, water, nonperishable food (such as granola bars in case of an emergency)
  • First aid kit
  • Small notebook and pen (to take notes if you are in an accident)

For more information, check out this CDC guide: https://www.cdc.gov/parentsarethekey/pdf/patk2015_8dangerzones-a.pdf