Washington and Oregon's graduated licensing laws set passenger and curfew restrictions on beginning teen drivers. But you don't have to stop there. Many parents apply their own house rules in addition to state laws.
Some even create a signed parent-teen driving agreement. Search online and you'll find plenty of templates, some that don't go much beyond common sense ("I won't use the car to race") to agreements so restrictive your teen can barely pull the car out of the garage ("No driving in the rain"). Good luck with that one nine months out of the year in the Northwest!
The best parent-teen driving agreement – one that helps you worry less as your teen gains more freedom and responsibility – tailors itself to your family and situation. For example, if your child uses the car every day to get to school, sports practice or a part-time job, it should look different (perhaps including the expectation that they'll pitch in to pay for gas and maintenance) than an agreement for a child who drives occasionally to run errands for the family.
Basics that every agreement should include
Despite their license from the state, teens need to understand that driving is a privilege that you control. That means you reserve the right to revise the agreement at any time to be tougher or looser, depending on how your teen manages this newfound freedom.
Resist temptation to use the agreement as a carrot or stick aimed at modifying non-driving behaviors (like keeping a clean room, for example). Instead, ground the agreement in safety and obeying the law, because that keeps the focus on making good choices behind the wheel. An exception is grades, since maintaining a B or better average directly (and dramatically) affects insurance rates.
Top 10 points to include in a parent-teen driving agreement
- Breaking state driving or graduated licensing laws will result in lost driving privileges, even if we hear about it from a source other than the police. That includes all rules of the road, seatbelt use for yourself and all passengers, cell phone use and restrictions on teen passengers.
- You must ask us each time you want to use the car and tell us details of the trip (basic route), your final destination and when you expect to return home so that, in an emergency, we could help if you don't show up as expected. If those details change, you need to let us know once you're safely parked.
- You may not drive distracted. Distractions include using electronics, eating, applying makeup or playing music so loud that you can't clearly hear your surroundings (e.g., screeching tires, honking horns, emergency sirens).
- You will maintain a "B" average or better so you qualify for the Good Student Discount on your insurance.
- If you're in a condition that leaves you less than 100% competent behind the wheel, you may not drive. That includes feeling sleepy, intoxicated or excessively emotional (angry, crying, stressed out, etc.). Leave the car parked and call us for a ride home any time day or night. If you can't reach us, take a taxi (we'll pay for it). The same rules apply to riding with someone else who is not fit to drive. This will NOT result in the loss of driving privileges, because you're making a responsible safety choice.
- In challenging driving conditions (snow and ice, for example), we reserve the right to drive you to your destination. If you're away from home and the weather suddenly turns bad, leave the car parked and call us for a ride home any time day or night. If you can't reach us, take a taxi (we'll pay for it).
- You must take responsibility for the car. Don't let it run low on fuel, which could potentially leave you stranded. Fill it yourself (we'll reimburse you) or, if you return home with a nearly empty tank, be sure to tell us so the next person to use the car doesn't get caught unaware. Always lock the car when you park it and put valuables out of sight so you don't make it a target for theft or a break-in.
- You may not lend your car to a friend or drive anyone else's car, even for a quick trip.
- You may not show off when you're driving to impress or amuse your friends. Keep both hands on the wheel in the positions recommended by your driving instructor.
- You agree to weekly "ride alongs" so I can monitor your growth as a driver and address any skills that still could use work.
Consequences for violations
If your teen tends to respond with, "Or else what?" when you set rules, consider spelling out consequences for violations in the agreement. It might look like this:
- I drove when I wasn't 100% competent behind the wheel (intoxicated). No driving for ____ months.
- I received a speeding or moving violation ticket (unsafe behavior). No driving for ____ months.
- I violated the state graduated licensing law by having teen passengers in the car, using electronics or driving after the state's nighttime curfew. No driving for ____ months.
- I drove without permission to use the car. No driving for ____ weeks/months.
- I drove distracted or in an otherwise safe manner. No driving for ____ weeks/months.
Set an example
When you write your contract, make sure you include a "Parent Promise" and signature line for yourself. It should say something like, "I also agree to drive safely and be an excellent role model."