Ask an Expert: Teaching your teen to drive safely

by John and Theresa Kightlinger

Is your teen ready to drive? If so, teach them to become a safe and responsible driver.

But first, make sure your teen is mature enough to drive. Talk with your teen about the responsibilities of driving a car.

Visit the Michigan Secretary of State’s website at to learn about the process for getting a driver’s license. The site contains information on driver education, graduated driver licensing, teen driver skills testing and more.

Enroll your teen in a professional driving course, which most states require.

Teach the five stages of learning to drive:

  1. Operating the vehicle.
    • Start and stop the engine.
    • Turn headlights and windshield wipers on and off.
    • Understand dashboard information.
    • How to use the seat belts.
    •  How to change a flat tire.
    •  What to do after an accident.
  2. Basic driving skills.
  • Awareness of surroundings.
    • Smooth, safe braking.
    • Making turns in both directions.
    • Backing up.
    • Using mirrors.
    • Shifting gears, if a manual transmission.
  1. Reacting to other drivers.
  • Changing lanes.
    • Navigating stop lights and intersections.
    • Creating a safe space around other cars on the road.
    • Never assuming what other drivers are going to do.
  1. Parking and difficult turns.
  • Parallel parking.
    • Parking on hills.
    • Parking diagonally.
    • Pulling in and out of 90-degree parking spaces.
    • U-turns and 3-point turns.
  1. Advanced skills
  • Entering and exiting freeways.
    • Maintaining safe distance at high speeds.
    • Driving at night.
    • Drive on wet, snowy, or icy roads.

Focus on safety

For new teen drivers, it’s all about freedom and fun. For parents, it’s all about responsibility and safety.

Teach the importance of car safety by regularly checking tires and brakes, paying attention to engine warning signs and reporting unusual engine noises.

Teens need to keep their passengers safe by requiring seat belt use, not goofing around or overloading the car with too many people.

New drivers need to be reminded to watch out for children running into the street,  driving slowly in school zones or parking lots and giving pedestrians the right of way in crosswalks.

Traffic laws need to be obeyed;  no speeding, unsafe lane changes or aggressive driving.

Teens must avoid distractions and keep their eyes on the road at all times. No talking or texting on the cellphone — ever! No eating, personal grooming or any unsafe behaviors while behind the wheel.

Set clear boundaries
Let your teen driver know that any of these will result in immediate loss of driving privileges.
• Using the car without permission.
• Using a cellphone while driving.
• Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Driving unsupervised (until they reach the age of no restrictions).
• Engaging in speeding, reckless driving or other unsafe behaviors.

The hard facts

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety , nearly 3,00 teens died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016. Of those fatalities:
• Two-thirds were male.
• 53% occurred on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
• 18% occurred between 9 p.m. and midnight.

Having teenage passengers in the car greatly increases the risk of teen drivers getting killed in a crash:
• One passenger – 44% increase.
• Two passengers – 100% increase.
• Three or more – 400% increase.

Keep your teen driver alive and well
Be a role model for safe driving. Set the rules and closely monitor your teen’s driving habits. Then hold your teen accountable for any violations of your rules.

John and Theresa Kightlinger own My Body Shop at 401 N. Clinton St., Stockbridge.The couple have lived in the area and raised their children here over the past 20 years. John has been in the auto body business since 1985, and Theresa began work at General Motors after high school. Between the two, they have been working on cars for more than 75 years. 

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