How to Set A Good Example for Your Kids Behind the Wheel

Once kids enter their teenage years, most of them are eyeing that vehicle in the driveway. Teaching your children how to drive is crucial when they start practicing for their driver’s license test, but setting good driving habits begins much sooner than that.

Once your children are of driving age, they will have been a passenger in your car thousands of times. So, as a parent, it’s imperative to demonstrate safe and healthy driving practices early on, so they are ready when they get behind the wheel.

Keep reading for how to set a good example for your kids before they hit the road!

1. Don’t Text and Drive

Widely agreed upon as one of the cornerstones of vehicle safety, you should never text and drive. No matter the situation, that text message is not worth your life. Make sure this is abundantly clear for all your children, too!

Additionally, you should not even check your cell phone at a stoplight or in a traffic jam. Accidents can still happen in these situations, and you need to maintain your awareness.

Avoid distraction by switching the phone to silent and putting it in the glove box or downloading an app like AT&T’s DriveMode. Apps like AT&T’s DriveMode silence text message notifications and phone calls and will even send a message to people trying to contact you, letting them know you are driving.

2. Talk About Good Practices

Safe driving habits are not restricted to actions behind the wheel. Make sure to talk to your kids about good life practices around driving, including stranger danger, safe parking locations, and how to keep yourself safe when traveling at night. Additionally, it would be best if you discussed the impact of substances on driving with older children.

Establish a Safety Routine

It’s essential to introduce your kids to a vigorous safety routine around vehicles. Don’t just pop open the door and jump in—carry out a brief vehicle check to ensure the car is in safe driving condition. Teaching kids to be vigilant outside the driver’s seat is key.

A good routine includes outside inspection of the car, including checking the wheels for flats, the windows for visibility, and making sure the headlights, taillights, and brake lights are all working. Teach your children the basic signs of a well-maintained vehicle.

Scan Your Surroundings

It is important to teach your children to check around and in their car for people before getting in or out of the vehicle. Predators or robbers may be hiding in or around the car, waiting for your child to return. So it is best if they know to always scan their surroundings and stay vigilant, especially when traveling alone.

Go Over Fit for Driving Rules

Another crucial rule to demonstrate for your kids is being fit to drive. Never get behind the wheel after drinking or ingesting an alternative substance, even if it’s been several hours. It is safest to have a hard stance on these things.

Share tips on preventing friends from drinking and driving, and drill in your kids’ minds that not only should they not get behind the wheel intoxicated, but they should not let anyone under the influence drive them.

Additionally, do not drive when severely sleep deprived or stressed out. Not only do drugs and alcohol inhibit driving safely, but kids must understand sleep and stress are just as harmful to them. Do not push yourself, and they won’t either.

3. Follow the Laws 

Speed limits, turning restrictions, round-about etiquette, and more—make sure you follow all the road rules and driving laws and encourage your children to do so as well. Keep up to date on new regulations and share them with your kids, too.

Watch Your Speed

Speeding is a habit that almost every driver has experienced, but it can be disastrous in the wrong circumstances. Avoid having your children learn to drive with a lead foot by watching the speed limit and correcting your speed accordingly.

Not only should you keep your speed down, make sure that you remind your kids why you are doing so. You can even turn the idea of travel time into a fun math game—we are going 50 mph, and our destination is 125 miles away. How long will it take to arrive?

Never Skip the Basics

We have all been tempted to skip the turn signal on an empty road, but it’s crucial to complete all the basic steps of good driving when setting an example for children in the car. Buckle up your seatbelt, look both ways when pulling out, and put on your blinker.

4. Have a Good Attitude

Make sure your children understand that driving is a privilege that must be maintained through good behavior on the road. The safety of those in the car and those around you depend on drivers keeping their cool!

Avoid Road Rage

Even the calmest of drivers get the occasional feeling of road rage. Whether someone is going significantly under the speed limit or a traffic jam is particularly bad one morning, getting irritated at the situation can be understandable.

However, it is essential to avoid reacting with anger while driving with your children. Honking or using choice language will not help resolve the situation and will only teach your kids to do the same when behind the wheel.

Staying calm and dealing diplomatically with an erratic driver is an important practice to pass on to your kids. If you are stuck in morning traffic, instead of getting overly frustrated, it’s a good time to sing along to some tunes!

Review Respectful Road Etiquette

Like staying calm even during frustrating driving situations, it’s essential to set a good example by respecting and obeying road authorities. Be calm and courteous even if you get stopped for a ticket or during a random vehicle check.

Make sure that your children see you interacting with road authorities or law enforcement civilly. This includes pulling aside safely for emergency workers, slowing your speed in construction zones, and respecting police officials.

5. Resist Distractions

Cell phones might be among the most common distractions for drivers, but they are far from the only ones. Ensure that you avoid all other types of distracted behavior when driving, including systems that are part of the car.

Food and Drink

You might want to take a sip of your coffee in the car, but it needs to wait until you are at a complete stop and parked. Trying to juggle any food or beverage behind the wheel is a dangerous distraction for even the best drivers.

Additionally, try to restrict food and drink from any young passengers in the car. Choking hazards abound with snacks, and you do not want to be distracted by a coughing child who swallowed wrong. It can lead to much worse consequences. 

In general, experts recommend leaving snack time to when you arrive at your destination or simply grabbing something before you even get into the car. It’s much safer for everyone involved, and you’ll have fewer crumbs and spills to clean up!

GPS Programming

Most GPS units built into the car will not accept programming while the vehicle is in motion. But if you are using a handheld navigation assistant or your smartphone to help you get to where you’re going, avoid using it while driving.

Instead, ask a passenger to be your co-pilot and program the destination for you. Or, find a suitable location where you can pull off the road and park safely, such as a gas station or a shopping center parking lot. Then, you can program the GPS yourself.

Making Phone Calls

Talking on the phone is another distraction for drivers everywhere. Not only is your attention split between the road and your phone conversation, but it also impairs your ability to hear everything transpiring around you, including emergency vehicles.

Passenger Distractions

A common cause of accidents for young drivers is by horsing around with other passengers. Show your children that this is unacceptable vehicle behavior from a young age, and hopefully avoid such a situation.

Do not engage in any physical distractions with whoever else is in the car. Having a conversation is fine, but avoid looking away from the road and keep both hands on the steering wheel in the proper position.

Personal Grooming

It’s surprisingly common for drivers to do a little grooming while behind the wheel. From brushing hair, applying makeup, and even flossing on the road, all these little things take your attention away from driving and are dangerous.

Scanning Radio Stations

Listening to music in the car is a great way to pass the time, but make sure the playlist or radio station is selected before starting the vehicle. Taking your eyes off the road to search for the perfect tunes is distracting and does not set a good example.

Additionally, any music or media you listen to should never be loud enough to drown out the rest of the road around you. Drivers and passengers alike need to be able to hear emergency vehicles or accidents around them.

Viewing Media

It might seem obvious, but viewing any media while behind the wheel should be avoided at all costs. Whether it is a cute picture of a dog, or a YouTube clip, taking your eyes off the road for a moment can be devastating, even when at a stoplight.

6. Take Care of Your Vehicle

Keeping your car well maintained and running smoothly is another part of responsible driving. Take your kids along to get regular vehicle maintenance errands done, such as a car wash or getting the tires adjusted.

You should also include children in at-home maintenance. Teach them how to check tire pressure, oil levels, and windshield wipers. When they get older, have them practice how to replace a tire or change the oil. The more prepared, the better!

Letting go and allowing your teen driver to get behind the wheel can be scary for some parents. There will always be circumstances out of your child’s control, but by properly equipping them with the healthy driving habits above, they will be safer on the roadway, allowing you to put your mind at ease.

For more helpful tips for new drivers, check out our teen driver checklist!