Strapping yourself into the passenger seat the first time your teenager takes the wheel is one of the scarier turning points of parenting.
Teen drivers are four times more likely to crash, on a per-mile basis, than older drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They are notorious for taking stupid risks and being overconfident about their driving ability.
But before you start lecturing your kid, take a look in the mirror. Many of the mistakes teen drivers make stem from things they learn from parents.
"You hear all kinds of crazy stuff," says Sharon Postigo Fife, president of The Driving School Association of the Americas in Kettering, Ohio.
Do as I say, not as I do.
Telling your kid about the danger of texting and driving won't do any good if you pick up your cell phone while motoring down the highway.
"Parents say one thing, and then do something different," says Brandon Dufour, general manager of All-Star Driver, a driving school headquartered in Watertown, Conn. "Starting at about age 11 or 12 your child is paying attention to your driving habits and noting consciously or subconsciously all those things you do ."
Two-thirds of surveyed teens say their parents live by different driving rules than the ones they expect their kids to follow, according to research in 2012 by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions. Ninety-one percent reported seeing their parents talk on a cell phone while driving, 88 percent observed their parents speeding and 59 percent said their parents have sent text messages while driving.
"Kids figure, 'If Mom can do it, I can do it,'" Dufour says.
It's OK to speed a little.
Brad Ault, president of the Florida Professional Driving School Association and Ault's Driver Education Center in Englewood, Fla., says he hears parents tell teens it's all right to drive 5 mph over the speed limit because "everybody does it."
But they should teach their kids to obey the speed limit and to drive according to conditions. Too many drivers don't slow down when the weather is bad.
"That's what kills a lot of people," Ault says.
A speeding ticket even for 5 mph over the limit can affect your car insurance premiums, says Penny Gusner, CarInsurance.com consumer analyst. "One minor ticket could go either way," Gusner says. "But two tickets -- even if they are both minor -- are a pattern that will scare your insurance company."
Pump the brakes to prevent skidding.
Before modern brake systems were developed, drivers were told to pump the brakes to prevent them from locking up. But most cars today are equipped with anti-lock brakes, making pumping unnecessary, says Casey Carden, regional chief instructor for the Southeast for the Skip Barber Racing School in Braselton, Ga.
Anti-lock brakes are designed to prevent your car from skidding when you use them in an emergency. For a vehicle without anti-lock systems, Carden advises letting up on the brakes slightly, rather than pumping them.
"Pumping the brake pedal upsets the balance of the car," he says.
Airbags and anti-lock brakes, though nearly universal on newer cars, still bring a car insurance discount with most companies.
Look over the hood ornament as you drive.
Looking over the hood ornament doesn't give the driver enough scope. You should look farther up the road -- one to two intersections ahead -- in the city and as far as you can scan in the country, Fife says.
Keeping your eyes farther ahead, rather than focusing right in front of you, gives you greater peripheral vision, Carden says.
"While you're driving, you want to see everything, but look at nothing," Carden says. "You want to be fully aware of what's going on around you."
Plus, how many cars have hood ornaments these days?
Hold the steering wheel at 10 and 2.
You might have been taught to hold the steering wheel in the 10 and 2 positions, envisioning the steering wheel as a clock. But that advice became outdated when airbags were developed, Ault says. Today driving instructors generally tell drivers to hold the wheel at the 10 and 3 positions, avoiding an explosively deployed airbag.
Wait until you're 18, so you can skip all the requirements.
Many states require classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction for teen drivers to get licensed, but most don't require driver education for new drivers or place restrictions on them once they reach 18. Fife says some families put off letting their kids drive until 18 so they can skip all those pesky requirements in place for younger teens.
But new drivers of any age can make mistakes from inexperience and lack of instruction. If the licensing age rises to 18 without the proper safeguards in place, Fife says, the crash rate for 18-year-olds will increase.
"I think this country takes driving as joke," she says.
If more than 30,000 people died in a U.S. tragedy, she adds, "You'd be hearing all about it. But every year that's how many people die in car crashes."
7 ways to track your teen driver
It's now possible to attach an electronic leash to a teen's vehicle, letting a worried parent ride shotgun without being in the car. Some devices use video, others GPS. Some record data for later review, and some simply prevent the teen from misbehaving on the road. And some can even lower your car insurance premium.
What follows is a sampling of the systems and technologies available. If it simply a smaller premium you're after, make sure you've looked into all the available discounts for teenagers.
Track them with satellites
GPS-based tracking systems can record where your teen drives and his or her behavior along the way.
Safeco's Teensurance program can result in a 15 percent discount on car insurance rates. The Safety Beacon GPS unit is professionally installed and allows parents to instantly locate the car, set speed reminders, set up safe driving zones (called geo-fences), and send arrival/departure notifications. Alerts and notifications can be sent to a parent's e-mail address. The system costs $200 upfront with a $19.99 monthly fee.
The car-dealer-installed SkyLink Protect allows parents to set up geo-fences and speed alerts, and it can function as a vehicle locator if your car is stolen. It also allows a parent to unlock the door remotely if the keys are locked in the vehicle.
Other GPS-based tracking systems gather and report information through a cellphone.
Get them on video
When the DriveCam video feedback system senses risky driving, it records a few seconds of what the driver is doing and seeing. The footage is sent to DriveCam, where it is analyzed by a safety professional. Once a week, parents are sent a report that includes the footage and advice on how to improve.
It is one of the most effective monitoring systems, according to University of Iowa research, and one of the more expensive -- unless you are an American Family Insurance customer.
DriveCam costs $500 installed and an additional $30 per month for monitoring, but it is free if you are insured with American Family. American Family believes the system produces safer drivers, says spokesperson Steve Witmer.
American Family says it does not use the data to set or adjust rates, and teens using the DriveCam system do not receive a policy discount.
Record the data for later review
Usage-based programs are becoming common among insurance companies, with substantial discounts available to drivers who install a monitoring device and demonstrate a pattern of low-risk driving.
Safeco's Teen Safety Rewards program is aimed squarely at teen drivers. Safeco's device plugs into the car's OBD-II diagnostics port, recording and transmitting data on speed, acceleration, braking and nighttime driving. A weekly report is e-mailed to the parent and teen, with the option to see more detail online. While the discount varies by state, most teens receive a 15 percent break on their premiums.
Other programs aren't necessarily aimed at teens. The Progressive Snapshot plug-in collects and transmits data similar to that of the Safeco program, with a discount of up to 30 percent. State Farm's In-Drive program uses Hughes Telematics technology and promises the possibility of even greater discounts, as much as 50 percent. Programs are also available through Travelers and Allstate.
A number of OBD-II plug-ins are available if your insurer doesn't offer one.
The CarChip Pro records data and allows parents to set thresholds for speed, acceleration and braking. If these thresholds are exceeded, a beeping sound alerts the driver. At $119, it is one of the more cost-effective options.
Set limits ahead of time
Carmakers are starting to put technology in their vehicles that allows parents to monitor or even control what their teens can do at the wheel.
With Ford's MyKey system, parents can program the teen's key to limit the top speed of the vehicle to 80 mph and prevent him from disabling stability control and other safety systems. It can limit audio volume and chime an alert at 45 mph, 55 mph and 65 mph. A persistent seat belt chime ensures teens buckle up. It can block incoming phone and text messages, too.
Hyundai's Blue Link technology lets parents set geo-fences, top speed limits and curfews on the vehicle. E-mail alerts are sent when any limit is exceeded.
Get the whole village involved
A few state governments have notification programs designed to improve teen driving.
The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles runs the Teen Electronic Event Notification Service (TEENS). This program notifies parents when traffic violations, accidents or suspensions appear on a teen's record. Florida is considering a similar proposal.
The Michigan Sheriffs' Association runs the Sheriffs Telling Our Parents and Promoting Educated Drivers (STOPPED) program. When police pull over a vehicle with a STOPPED sticker on the windshield, parents are notified, regardless of whether a ticket is issued.
Shut down their cellphones
Your cellphone provider may offer a text- and call-disabling program. It is activated when the phone senses the car moving. AT&T's app is free; Sprint's Drive First is $2 a month.
You might get more functionality by buying one of dozens of smartphone apps.
The iGuardianTeen app, for example, disables texting and calls. A report is sent to parents after every driving session, and includes information about top speeds, duration of the trip and any excessive G-force events triggered by sudden braking or swerving. The program alerts parents if the app is shut down. It is only available for Android phones and costs $4.99.
These solutions don't require electronics, but they also don't return as much data.
Parents can buy a "How's My Teen Driving?" bumper sticker that routes calls to a reporting center, which e-mails the parents. Tell The Parents is $31.95 a year. Or you could simply print a "How's My Driving?" bumper sticker of your own with a phone number on it, if you're prepared to deal with a crank call or two.
You can hire someone to follow your teen. Really, you can. StreetEyes says its operators will follow at a discreet distance, filming the car, capturing its speed and tracking it by GPS, then report back to you, at a cost of $30 for a 20-minute session.
Lastly, there is the old standby familiar to any driver who came of age in the pre-cellphone era: Check the odometer and write it down.