Teen Driving with Friends

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths in this age group. In 2008, nine teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries.

The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. Adding to the problem, the presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk increases with the number of teen passengers. Sixty-five percent of all teen passenger deaths occur when another teen is driving. Crash risk is particularly high during the first year that teenagers are eligible to drive. That combination has lead many parents to impose a “no friends in the car” rule for the first year of a teen’s driving life.

When are teens most at risk?

Teenage-related driving deaths frequently occur in the following situations:

  • When driving with friends. Teens are safer driving by themselves or with family. They should drive as much as possible with an experienced driver, who can help develop good driving habits. New drivers should wait until they have a consistent, safe driving record before taking friends as passengers.
  • With recreational driving. For the first 3 to 6 months after obtaining a license, new drivers should try to gain their experience driving for school and work, not for fun.
  • When not buckled-up. The CDC reports that compared with other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use. In 2005, 10% of high school students reported they rarely or never wear seat belts when riding with someone else. Teens should be buckling their seat belt every time they are in a car.
  • After dark. Automatic reflexes and driving skills are just developing during the first months of driving. Darkness is an extra variable to cope with.
  • When drowsy. Anyone who is sleepy should stop driving until fully alert. Several studies suggest that sleepiness causes even more accidents than alcohol.
  • After drinking alcohol or using other drugs. Remind teens that drinking and/or drugs (including prescription drugs) slow reflexes and impair judgment.
  • When distracted. Use of cell phones, eating, drinking, or putting on makeup while driving are dangerous for all drivers.

Parents should review these risk factors with their teens before they get their license.

Should parents hide the car keys?

These statistics are enough to panic any parent, but before you hide the car keys, there are proven methods to help teens become safer drivers. Here are a few tips:

Be a proper role model. Teens really do watch their parents behind the wheel. Be sure you’re not talking on a cell phone, speeding, tailgating, or otherwise “bending” traffic rules when you drive. Always fasten your seat belt.

Practice, practice, practice. Teens can only become good at something with lots of patient practice. Even when you are driving, ask your teen to point out potential risks that they see. When your teen is behind the wheel, be patient and positive.

Comprehensive Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) Programs. Research suggests that comprehensive graduated drivers licensing (GDL) programs are associated with reductions of 38% and 40% in fatal and injury crashes, respectively, among 16-year-old drivers. Graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems are designed to delay full licensure while allowing teens to get their initial driving experience under low-risk conditions. For more information about GDL systems, see Teens Behind the Wheel: Graduated Drivers Licensing at the CDC website.

Consider developing a driving contract. Parents must discuss “household driving rules” with their teens and help them stick to those rules. An excellent method to stimulate discussions and set expectations is to develop a written “driving contract”. This document should specify the rules and consequences of breaking the rules. It should include input from your teen. Here are some tips for developing a contract:

The car

Parents should make decisions on the following car related items and add them to the contract.

  • Which car(s) the teen is allowed to drive:  The car should have good safety ratings and features and be easy to maneuver.
  • Who is responsible for what car care—including putting gas into the car, oil changes, tire pressure, and regular maintenance requirements.
  • The expectations for car clutter—keeping the car clean inside and out and free of trash.
  • Paying for insurance.  Insurance rates for teens are often twice the ones for adults over twenty five—and for good reason.  Teens have an average of three accidents between 16 and 20.  Some parents find that having their teens pay the insurance costs with their part time jobs provides some incentive for avoiding reckless, on-road behavior that often results in accidents.  Insurance rates will rise sharply with each accident—sometimes costing thousands of dollars per year.


The contract should also stress safe driving practices, including:

  • Always obeying the speed limit and traffic laws.
  • Always wearing seat belts and making sure that all passengers are buckled up before driving.
  • No drinking/drug use—Parents should always be vigilant in watching for signs of alcohol or drug use by their teens and talk to their teens and seek professional help if they find indications.  The contract should state that teens are not allowed to drink and drive, have alcohol in the car, or even be a passenger in a car with a driver who has been drinking or using drugs.  Assure your teen that they can always call you to come get them if they get stranded at a gathering.
  • Not driving with friends in the car.  It is a good idea to not allow teens to drive with friends, or even younger siblings, in the car for the first six to twelve months of having their license unless an adult is also in the car.  Distractions are one of the main causes of accidents for new drivers.  And trying to keep track of conversations, playing around, or trying to act cool could lead to a crash.
  • Not using cell phones or texting while driving.
  • New drivers should let parents know where they are going and when they plan to return.
  • Curfews.  Night driving is especially difficult for a new driver and more accidents happen in the 9:00 p.m.-2:00 A.M. timeframe than during the daylight hours.  Set realistic curfews, but also tell teens that if they are running late, it’s always better to drive safely than speed to make up the minutes—and to call you if possible to let you know they are on the way home.


The contract should specify what happens if the rules are broken.  It’s a good idea to get your teen’s input on appropriate penalties.  For example, a speeding ticket might result in the loss of driving privilege for a week and having to pay for the ticket.

You can obtain more information or a sample driving contract at: www.teendriving.com.

A Final Word on Passengers

Teens who are not yet driving often want to ride with their friends who already have their license. Again, 65% of all teen passenger deaths occur when another teen is driving. Friends in the car are very distracting to an inexperienced driver. It is highly recommended that teens not ride with teen drivers until the driver has had at least a year of driving experience.


  • Great article. I especially like the contract between parent and youth idea. Two way trust, communication and fair accountability is a great example to our kids. Peer pressure can be very strong and one mistake carry huge consequences.
    Came across this group the other day. Looks like they are doing some really neat things along these lines: http://www.sadd.org/

  • Proper guidance should be given by the parents to the teens about safe driving. They should be educated about the consequences of drunk driving.

  • Great info. I’m a fan of defensive driving and car safety.

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