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Writer Elizabeth Stone once famously said that having a child means “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” There’s no denying how terrifying it can be when your son or daughter embarks on those momentous milestones: the first day of kindergarten, the first night at sleepaway camp, and the first time they take your car out, by themselves, as a newly licensed driver.
Even if your child is a conscientious driver and everything goes smoothly on that first foray, you can’t protect them from dangerous drivers that may cause your son or daughter to be involved in a car accident one day. It might not be their fault, and it might not do much damage to the vehicle, and it hopefully will not result in an injury — but it’s bound to have your child and your family shaken up, nevertheless.
Before you hand over the keys, prepare your teen driver by setting some ground rules for safe driving and teaching them what to do in the wake of an accident. Read on to learn what to say and for some tips that will help you in the aftermath of a crash, as well.
As Soon as Your Teen Starts Driving
Don’t assume that your child is too smart or levelheaded to drive without wearing a seatbelt, to drive under the influence, or to text (this includes Snapchat, Instagram, or WhatsApp, or whatever the hot new app is) while driving. Unfortunately, your words may sometimes go in one ear and out the other. Time says that teenagers’ brains aren’t fully formed and they’re therefore apt to make more thoughtless or impulse decisions due to the influence of their peers. The more you impress on them the seriousness of distracted driving, however, the more likely they will be to stop and consider the consequences before texting and driving.
Parenting experts say that a no-tolerance policy for risky driving behavior is best, but it’s up to your family to develop your own approach on how you communicate safe driving to your new teenage driver. Decide on consequences right out of the gate and communicate them clearly to your child. Have him or her sign a “safe driving contract” to impress upon them the seriousness of safety behind the wheel. Auto club AAA offers a sample agreement, as well as lots of other useful resources, at their teen driving website.
What to Do If There’s an Accident
It’s also important for teenagers to understand what steps to take, and how to behave, following an accident. Whether it’s a fender-bender in the mall parking lot or a more serious crash, having gone over this checklist in advance will serve your son or daughter well.
You might even consider tucking a hard copy of this checklist in your glove box, or have your teen snap a pic with their cellphone — to ensure it’s always handy!
- Evaluate Yourself and Your Passengers for Injuries. First things first; make sure everyone is safe and unharmed. Call 911 if there are any injuries. Remember that it is always better to be checked out and pronounced injury-free than to dismiss any symptoms, only to discover later on they are signs of a serious problem.
- Move Your Car Out of Harm’s Way. If it is safe to do so, and if you are not seriously injured, move the car to the side of the road where it will not present a danger to other drivers. In cases where moving the car would be equally or more dangerous, or if it’s not running properly, put on your hazard lights and/or set up emergency flares.
- Call the Police to File an Accident Report. Calling 911 will trigger police to come evaluate the scenario, or get in touch with the state trooper’s office. Again, it’s best to err on the side of caution here. Your insurance company will require a police report, as well. Cooperate fully with any law enforcement officers who question you, but do not admit fault.
- Don’t Engage with Other Parties. In the aftermath of an accident, when your nerves are frayed and jangling, it can be hard to remember not to deny or accept blame, start arguing about what happened, or otherwise engage with anyone else who is involved. The extent of your communication should be exchanging contact and insurance information. If the other driver is irate and argumentative, lock yourself in your car and wait there for police to arrive.
- Gather Evidence at the Scene. Take pictures or video of the accident scene, focusing on any damage to vehicles. If inclement weather or road conditions contributed to the accident, get pics of those, too — wet or icy asphalt, glare from the setting sun, or debris on the roadway. Ask witnesses for their contact information, especially if they can’t stick around to give a statement to the police.
When You Get that Phone Call
OK, Mom, now it’s time to talk about your action — and reactions! — when you learn that your teenager has been involved in a car accident. Ready?
First, take a deep breath, or five. After finding out that your child is mostly unharmed, find out where the accident took place, and go to the scene if possible. While you’re en route, keep up those deep breaths and remember that cars can be replaced. Children, of course, cannot.
It’s important to stay calm for your son’s or daughter’s sake. Don’t yell, assign blame, or try to mete out punishment in the immediate aftermath. That can be damaging to your teenager’s self-esteem, or may Just get everyone home safe and sound, take care of calling the tow truck, and try to relax a little bit. Then find out what happened, because the accident could be the result of the other driver being distracted, which isn’t your child’s fault.
According a law firm’s website in Aventura, Florida, “If you suffer an injury or damages due to a distracted driver, you may be able to sue the negligent driver in a personal injury lawsuit.” Lastly, you should retain the services of a car accident lawyer if there’s the chance that your child could face charges or other legal consequences.
Should it turn out that your teen is at fault because of bad behavior or poor judgment, talk things over with your spouse — or with a close friend or relative if you are a single parent — before discussing punishment. It might be a good idea to sleep on it, too, so that you’re not at risk for overreacting.
Although it is extremely scary to be in an accident, a little preparation goes a long way. Knowing what to do after a crash, and understanding the consequences of risky or illegal driving behavior, will help your child make good choices behind the wheel and on the road.
Has your teen driver been in an accident? Do you have any tips for staying sane when your 16-year-old becomes a licensed driver? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or join us in our Facebook group!