Parent-Teen Driving Contracts – Yes or No?



The parent-teen driving contract is one of the latest “trends” in driver’s education, but it’s not without controversy. While some swear by them, others mock the contracts as outdated, “nerdy”, and ridiculous.

The basic idea behind the parent-teen driving contract is that it lays out the ground rules and expectations for both parties. A typical contract will include rules about car usage and behavior, safety rules, parental obligations, and consequences for each party, should they fail to hold up their end of the bargain.

Nearly all parent-teen driving contracts include sections on drug and alcohol use, driving with passengers, driving in less than ideal conditions, and distracted driving. Consequences are specified along with each rule, and could range from a day without the car to loss of the license. Many contracts also include sections on a teen’s expected financial contributions to the vehicle. You can view examples here and here.

Prior to a teen’s 16th birthday, the parents and teen will sit down to discuss the contents of the driving contract, modifying it as necessary and clarifying any confusing points. Those in favor of the contracts feel that the process is designed to help the teen understand the gravity of the situation and view the parents as cooperative partners in their learning. A parent-teen driving contract also serves to eliminate doubt in the event of a future argument over rules.

All the same, I’ve yet to see a proper study that indicates that the contracts do anything other than demonstrate just how out of touch the parent is. Unless you have a lifelong habit of parenting through paperwork, pulling out a driving contract is not likely to improve the likelihood that your teen will take you seriously or follow your advice.

If parents have done their job correctly up to the age of 15, a teen will have a very good idea of what’s right and wrong without any help at all. They may not always do the right thing, but that’s another issue entirely. Specific rules should definitely be made clear, but there’s generally no need for a signed piece of paper that says things like, “don’t send text messages while driving” and “don’t drink and drive”.

If you really want to make sure that your teen stays safe on the roads, go ahead and make a contract but keep it to yourself. As you go down the list of items, think back to when you were a teenager and try to figure out what might have made you more likely to choose the safest actions. If something on the list might have made you feel uncool, try to figure out ways to approach the topic and minimize anxiety your teen might have about making the right decision.

For example: It’s not easy to tell the other kids in the car to quiet down so you can concentrate. That’s a good opportunity for you and your teen to discuss ways to deal with distractions from other passengers (or for you to set rules in advance).

Don’t let yourself think that a signed piece of paper will protect your teen from the dangers on the roads. Do your best to think like your teenager and you should have no trouble coming up with a more effective and loving approach.


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