Bob Dallas

As we approach the Twelve Days of Christmas, I am reminded how blessed parents are to have kids.

As infants and toddlers, they bring us joy during the holiday season. As they grow into kids, we bring them toys to maintain the holiday spirit. When they approach their teens, too often getting them out of the house is the best way to keep the spirit alive.

But, of course, parents always want their teens to come home safely—before Santa’s arrival.

These twelve driving tips are designed for parents whose teens have transferred their belief in Santa Clause to a belief that their precious freedoms are all but lost unless their parents turn over the car keys.

So, parents, before the teens come a-calling, take these steps to increase the likelihood you will have a very merry Christmas:

1. Parents, we are not experts. Trust the experts: Every teen should take drivers’ education classes before you let them drive.

2. Teens should get their learners’ permits as soon as they are eligible. But delay as long as possible getting their restricted licenses. In the interim, teens should become parents’ chauffeurs, driving their parents for over 300 hours under increasingly difficult conditions. Forty hours is not enough. The real goal is to get the excitement of driving out of teens’ systems before they drive alone.

3. Use the state-sponsored parent/teen driving guide to ensure all relevant driving subjects are covered.

4. Parents and teens should enter into a Parent/Teen Driving Contract. The contract defines the terms of car use. Keep it focused on the driving restrictions, as too many other subjects make it meaningless.

5. Parents and teens should attend a Teen Ride With PRIDE (Parents Reducing Injuries and Driver Error) program. If there isn’t one at your school, find one. They’re free.

6. Once teens receive their restricted licenses, do not allow them to drive with more than one unrelated passenger. More passengers equal more distractions.

7. Employ electronic devices to disable teens’ cellphones when the car is in motion. This reduces another distraction temptation.

8. Teens should drive their families’ newest, not oldest, car. Newer cars are significantly safer. Any car driven by a teen should not be sporty or look like it drives fast. Sporty, fast-looking cars will be tested by teens.

9. Set a curfew and take the keys if violated. The later the hour, the higher the risks.

10. Letting your teen ride while another teen drives does not make it safer for your teen. Talk to the other teen’s parent and confirm the rules with both the parent and driving teen.

11. Parents, how you drive is the best predictor of how your teens will drive. Remember to drive as if you are the teacher each and every time you drive your kids from the day they are born—well before you think they are paying attention.

12. Make your kids pay for the gas they use when they drive by themselves. While this has little to do with how they drive, it sure reduces how much they drive and gives them an appreciation of the costs of driving.

Of course these tips apply all year round. And while there are no guarantees of eliminating teen crashes, the risks can be reduced significantly by following these 12 teen driving tips. Because as parents, we know the best gift is having our kids home for the holidays each and every year.

Bob Dallas is the former director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, former vice chair of the Georgia Drivers Education Commission, and has five boys.