Many teens have dreamed of buckling up and hitting the road with their friends. Whether it’s a trip to the mountains, up the California coast, or across the country, road trips are an American staple. They can also be a parent’s worst nightmare. As a parent, you may worry that your teen doesn’t have enough driving experience. What if they break down? What if their friends distract them while driving? And so on. These are very real and valid concerns, but the best thing you can do is to prepare your teen for a safe trip ahead of time. In this article, we are going to ‌look at road trip safety, including our recommended road trip safety essentials, and discuss what you should tell your teen before they take off on their first road trip.  

Road Trip Safety

When it comes to being safe on a road trip, one of the most important things to do is to prepare. The first thing you are going to want to do is to make sure the vehicle is ready to handle the distance. When choosing the vehicle you or your teen is taking on a road trip, we recommend they choose something that is fuel efficient, recently tuned/evaluated, and reliable. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the correct vehicle for a road trip:

Pre-Road Trip Vehicle Checklist

  • Oil is full and a recent oil change has been done
  • Coolant levels are correct
  • The battery is healthy and charged
  • Tire pressure is correct
  • Tire tread is the correct length
  • Brakes had a recent evaluation (or replacement)
  • Blinkers and lights are operational
  • Window washer fluid levels are full

To prepare for a long trip, hand this checklist to your teen or go through each of these steps together. If you prefer to handle it yourself, it’s also beneficial to show them how to evaluate and correct each of these steps so they can handle a potential problem if one occurs on the road. 

Pre-Road Trip Driver Checklist

Next, you’ll want to prepare the driver for the long road trip. Here are some good road trip safety tips for drivers and passengers alike:

  • The driver should be well rested before the trip in both directions. Make sure the driver is not tired, hungover, or easily distractible when behind the wheel both on their way out, and on their return.
  • Always have a copilot. If the trip involves driving in the early morning or late at night, having someone sitting shotgun (who stays awake) is a good preventative measure to ensure the driver does not doze off behind the wheel. The passenger should handle navigation so the driver does not take their eyes off the wheel. In California, it’s illegal for the driver to operate their phone while driving, so any adjustments to the phone or GPS should be done ahead of time, at a rest stop (not just a stoplight), or by a passenger.
  • Set up auto-reply. As a parent, it may be tempting to call or text your teen to check on them while they’re on the road. In almost all circumstances, they cannot text you back or answer the phone while driving. To give you peace of mind, you can work with your teen to set up driving auto-replies following these instructions.
  • Make sure to take breaks. It’s always a good idea for the driver to get out of the vehicle every couple of hours to stretch their legs and get some fresh air. 
  • Split the driving responsibilities. We recommend that the safe drivers within the vehicle rotate every couple of hours. This ensures no one is behind the wheel for too long (which can make the driver less alert). It also makes the trip more fun as you can swap responsibilities like picking music, navigating, and so on.

Although not everything is in your (or your teen’s) control on road trips, a prepped vehicle and well-rested driver(s) ensure the best chance for an accident-free trip.

Additional Tips for a Safe Road Trip

Drivers Ed programs get your teen ready to hit the road, but it’s always a good idea to go over road safety with them several times before their trip. We also recommend you review the following tips and tricks with them to help keep them safe on their drive:

  • Cruise control. Cruise control is a great tool (if your vehicle has it) to ensure a steady speed. It reduces the odds of speeding and/or aggressive driving. Be sure your teen knows how to set it, how to turn it off, and that they can still hit the brakes while it’s enabled when needed.
  • Never wait until you’re empty to refuel. We’ve all done it. But this is one thing you will want to make sure your teen does not do, especially on a long journey. Along certain routes, there are long stretches of road with no fuel stops. New drivers might not realize this until it’s too late.
  • Scan ahead. Keeping your eyes scanning ahead can help you avoid objects in the road or other drivers that might swerve or not pay close attention.
  • Eliminate blind spots. There are many additional mirror options to help avoid blind spots. This can be extremely helpful on trips where the car is packed with gear and it’s hard to look around.

Road Trip Safety Essentials

The last thing you and your teen can do to make sure their road trip goes smoothly is to keep the proper items in the car at all times. Accidents happen. A light could get left on in the car and drain the battery, the car could overheat in the desert, the car could break down and leave the occupants stranded on the side of the road for several hours. Having the proper tools on hand can help make an otherwise dangerous situation manageable. Below are a few things we recommend you have in your car always, but certainly on a long road trip.

  • First Aid kit
  • Maintenance manual
  • Drinking water
  • Spare tire
  • Jumper cables 
  • Coolant
  • Safety manual
  • Any medication
  • A jacket or raincoat
  • Pre-packaged snacks
  • A charged cell phone and backup battery
  • Some spare cash

Closing Thoughts

You never know what will happen on a long road trip, but you can always be prepared. Following these road trip safety tips will help ensure your teen has the safest and best experience possible. Nothing beats experience on the road, so make sure your teen gets as much practice driving as possible. This includes riding with them the first time they try cruise control, showing them how to use jumper cables and other safety items, and helping them locate the safety gear before they leave.

It’s important to make sure your teen learns to drive from the best teachers out there. Your Drivers Ed Online offers a certified, DMV-approved driver education course that gives you the knowledge you need to earn your learner’s permit, setting your teen up for success from the very beginning. Click here to start our Driver’s Ed program for free today.