Setting Ground Rules for Your Teen Driver

In 2010, 10 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were 15 to 20 years old.


Source: Young Drivers; 2010 Data, (PDF 752.60 KB), NHTSA, May 2012

You Are the #1 Influence


Teen driver fatalities have declined significantly over the years; despite this, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of teen deaths.

As a parent, you are the number one influence on your teen driver’s safety.  Self-reported surveys show that teens whose parents impose driving restrictions typically engage in less risky driving and areinvolved in fewer crashes. Here’s how to get started on shaping your teen into a safe and capable driver.

Start the Conversation Early

In 2010, drivers 16 to 20 years old were involved in almost two times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. Talk to your kids about traffic safety early and often, before they reach driving age. But don’t stop there: Have conversations with the parents of your kids’ peer groups and compare notes—both are key to your teens’ safety.

Set the Standard

Talking is important, but action’s even better.  Show your kids safe driving behavior. Start by modeling good habits any time you drive them anywhere, even before they begin to drive. One way is to turn off your cell phone and put it in the glove compartment  before putting your key in the ignition.

Get it in Writing

When your teenagers begin driving, we recommend you set ground rules and outline the consequences for breaking them in a Parent-Teen Driving Contract.  Consider hanging your contract by the family car keys or near the front door.

Spell out the Rules

Include the important issues, explaining each rule and the consequences. Bring them up in your conversations and in the examples you set.


  1. Alcohol: Absolutely No Alcohol

  2. Seat Belts: Always Buckle Up!

  3. Electronic Devices: No Talking or Texting While Driving

  4. Curfew: Have the Car in the Driveway by 10 p.m.

  5. Passengers: No More Than One at All Times

  6. Graduated Driver Licensing: Follow Your State's GDL Law

  7. Parental Responsibility: Set Your Ground Rules and Consequences


Rule 1: Absolutely No Alcohol

Young drivers 15 to 20 years old are at far greater risk of death in crashes involving alcohol than the rest of us, even though they cannot legally purchase or possess it.

  • DID YOU KNOW... In 2010, almost one third of 15- to 20-year-old drivers (PDF 752.50 KB) killed in crashes had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .01 or higher, and almost one fourth had a BAC of .08 grams or higher, even though it’s illegal in all States and the District of Columbia for anyone under 21 to drive with any trace of alcohol in their system.
  • DID YOU KNOW… Of the young (15-20) passenger vehicle drivers who had been drinking and were killed in crashes during 2010, 71 percent were unrestrained – staggering.


If lucky enough to survive a crash, your teenager will have to face the consequences of breaking the law. That includes a trip to jail, the loss of a driver’s license, and dozens of other expenses including attorney fees, court costs, other fines, and insurance consequences. Your teen will also stand to lose academic eligibility, college acceptance, and scholarship awards.

Share this fact sheet on alcohol and driving (PDF 266.17 KB) with your teenagers and make sure they know the consequences of breaking your State laws on impaired driving.

Rule 2: Always Buckle Up!

When your teenagers are ready to drive, remind them that whether they are driving across town or just around the neighborhood, wearing seat belts is the absolute best way to protect themselves and their passengers in the event of a crash.  By keeping drivers in a secure position, seat belts help all drivers maintain control of the vehicle in emergency situations.

  • DID YOU KNOW… In 2010, 60 percent of all 16- to 20-year-old occupants killed in passenger vehicles were not wearing seat belts (PDF 854.41).


We don’t know what the outcome would have been for those 1,532 teens had they buckled up, but statistics tell us that in that same year about half of those teens would have survived had they been wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.

Don’t let your teen become a statistic. Set the right example by buckling yourself up every time you get in the car. Learn about the top 5 things you should know about buckling up (PDF 268.83 KB) and share this fact sheet on proper seat belt use (PDF 313.35 KB) with your teenager.

Rule 3: No Talking on the Cell Phone or Texting While Driving

No matter how experienced you are as a driver, talking on a cell phone while driving reduces your reaction time similar to that of a 70-year-old (PDF 1.11 MB). Distracted driving does not just happen – it is a choice. 

  • DID YOU KNOW… Sixteen percent of all distracted driving crashes involve our youngest and most inexperienced drivers – those under 20. Young drivers report more crashes or near-crashes than older drivers.


Texting especially poses threats for teen drivers because they choose to take their eyes off the road and at least one hand off the steering wheel.   Texting simultaneously involves manual, visual, and cognitive distraction and is among the worst of all driver distractions.

  • DID YOU KNOW… Sending or reading a text while driving 55 mph is like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded – extraordinarily dangerous.
  • DID YOU KNOW… Teens are the least likely of all ages to speak up when a driver is talking on a cell phone or texting.


Unfortunately, electronic devices are as tempting as they are dangerous for novice drivers.  In fact, 43 percent of teens admit to texting while driving (PDF 1.52 MB). Find out your State laws on distracted driving. Then talk to your teenager about the risks of distractions in and outside the vehicle (PDF 172.03 KB), setting clear expectations about safe driving habits.

Rule 4: Have the Car in the Driveway by 10 P.M.

There’s a reason why GDL laws impose nighttime driving restrictions on teen drivers during the intermediate stage: Between 9 p.m. and midnight is when most nighttime fatal crashes of young drivers occur (PDF 675.30 KB).

  • DID YOU KNOW… States with nighttime driving restrictions show crash reductions of up to 60 percent during restricted hours.


But the law’s not enough. As a parent, you need to establish and enforce ground rules. NHTSA recommends (PDF 688.88 KB) nighttime driving restrictions starting no later than 10 p.m. Talk to your teen about when you expect to have the car back in the driveway. Explain the reason for setting a “home-by” rule is to protect your teen from high-risk nighttime driving.



Rule No. 5: No More Than One Passenger in the Car at All Times (or Zero if Your State’s GDL Law Doesn’t Permit Any)

Most teens are susceptible to peer pressure, which can lead to risk-taking. In a study analyzed by NHTSA, teen drivers were two-and-a-half times more likely to engage in one or more potentially risky behaviors (PDF 870.31 KB) when driving with one teenage peer compared to when driving alone.

  • DID YOU KNOW... GDL laws in 45 States and the District of Columbia restrict the number of passengers during the intermediate stage.


The more, the scarier: Research shows that the risk of a fatal crash goes up in direct relation to the number of teenagers in the car.

  • DID YOU KNOW… According to the same study analyzed by NHTSA, the likelihood of teen drivers engaging in one or more risky behaviors when traveling with multiple passengers increased to three times.


Again, the law is not enough. As a parent, you need to establish and enforce ground rules: No more than one passenger in the car at all times, and preferably none.

Rule No. 6: Graduated Driver Licensing – Follow the State Law

Young, inexperienced drivers, particularly 16- to 17-year-olds, die too often in fatal crashes (PDF 848.33 KB) largely because of immaturity and inexperience. Three-stage GDL laws  reduce these factors by gradually introducing driving tasks and privileges through controlled exposure to high-risk situations. All States and the District of Columbia have GDL laws with these three stages:

  • Learner’s Permit,
  • Intermediate (Provisional) License, and
  • Full Licensure.


Make sure you and your teen drivers know and understand your State GDL laws before they get behind the wheel.

  • DID YOU KNOW… Novice drivers (teens 15 to 18 years old) rarely crash while being supervised by adults, but they have the highest crash rates of all age groups during the first six months of unsupervised driving (PDF 756.71 KB) when they become fully licensed.


Rule No. 7:  Set Your Ground Rules and Consequences

Talk to your young drivers about their driving before and after they have their permit or license. Set the rules for driving and explain the consequences for breaking them. Your house rules can be tougher than the GDL laws, based on your assessment of your teen.
Be accountable, and make them accountable

  • Write up a contract if you want to spell it out. Sign it and have your teen drivers sign. Remind them that driving is a privilege that can be easily revoked.
  • Talk often and stick to your own rules. You can have a contract with your teen without writing it down. Keep an open dialog with your young driver and make your rules and consequences crystal clear. Talk often and stick to your own rules.
  • Explain the consequences if your teen receives a traffic citation or is in a crash. In some GDL systems, citations or crashes delay advancement to the next licensing level and result in insurance penalties. 




Driver Education
Starts at Home
Setting Ground Rules
for Your Teen Driver