My husband and I trained all three of our kids to drive with the help of Stafford County Public School's driving program. From white-knuckled trips as copilot to watching our kids back out of the driveway by themselves for the first time, I don't think anything was as challenging as enforcing provisional license passenger restrictions. And nothing as dangerous if we didn't.
The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is dedicated as "the 100 deadliest days" for teen drivers by traffic safety experts. The weather is warm, school is ending, and it's prom and graduation season. It's a celebratory time of fun and freedom that can be lethal for inexperienced drivers. But fall brings its own challenges with the start of the school year, Friday night lights and homecoming season. For that reason, October 21- 27 is NHTSA's Teen Driver Safety Week to bring awareness to the fact that teens do not typically show the same level of driving responsibility as adults.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has declared vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death for 15 to 18 year olds in the United States. On top of that, research has found a teen's risk of being killed in a crash doubles with 2 passengers under the age of 21 and quadruples with 3 or more under 21 passengers.
Our insurance team sometimes witnesses the unfortunate details of teen traffic crashes when assisting our members and their families with auto claims. To protect our young drivers, it's important for parents to stick to all of Virginia's new driver rules and guidelines. But we know there's one rule that's key: Passenger restrictions.
The details of the VA law are specific and can be a bit confusing. It's easy for parents to forget exactly how to enforce them! So, let's break it down.
Here is Virginia's law regarding passenger restrictions for teen drivers:
1. If your teen driver is under 18, only 1 passenger under 21 is allowed during the first year of their driver’s license, unless a parent (who is a licensed driver) is in the seat beside them.
2. After successfully holding a license for 1 year, and until your teen driver turns 18, up to 3 passengers under age 21 are allowed in these situations only:
- when driving to or from a school-sponsored activity
- when a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old is in the seat beside you
- in cases of emergency.
Passenger restrictions do not apply to family members.
It makes good sense, right?! So, we shouldn't make the job of enforcing these restrictions difficult for others by being the "cool parent". It can be rather inconvenient at times, I know. When my kids were driving, there would be only one extra kid who needed a ride home from soccer practice. Or my daughter would need a ride in a car that already had another passenger. I was always the bad guy and said "no". I knew everyday hassles, or my kid's persuading, should never influence me to follow anything less than what Virginia law requires and my gut told me was best for my child.
After these timelines are met, the maturity of your son or daughter should determine the number of passengers you allow while they are driving or riding with a friend. They may be kids just being kids, but if you're not sure about your teen's behavior or their friend's while driving a car, you may want to hold off on numbers of peer passengers a little longer.
This includes the times when your teen is the passenger. We even recommend not letting them ride with any teen driver with less than one year of driving experience. Also, give your teen an easy way out of an unsafe situation with a code word. Agree on a word that they can text you and you will go pick them up immediately, no questions asked.
Passengers aren't the only danger to your teen's driving safety. In Virginia, 62 percent of those teen drivers that lost their lives in 2015 weren’t wearing seat belts. Other risk factors for teens included distractions -especially texting and speed. Those teen fatalities from speed had almost doubled the numbers of overall fatalities in Virginia and 63 percent of those killed ran off the road. While these are horrible statistics, they serve as good reminders to keep the safety conversations going even after your teen has their license. We're sharing a great video below from the smart folks at IIHS that every parent should take the time to watch.
The bottom line? Enforce those critical passenger restrictions every single time. Talk to your teen regularly about driving safety expectations and make sure they always buckle up. Take away driving privileges when necessary. And always model good driving habits for your kids, even when they're little. That way they will know what it looks like to drive safe and sound.