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Your teen’s first car accident

The phone rings.

Its your teen driver.

They were supposed to be home by now, but instead they are calling you.

You brace yourself for what this could mean. Please let him be OK.

Mom, Ive had an accident.

You’re going to want to instantly panic, and if you’re heart isn’t already beating in your throat, it will be any second now. You’re going to want to ask a million questions and start going through the list of what your teen should and shouldn’t say and do at the accident scene. But first, before anything else, there is something extremely important that needs to be said.

Its just a car. It can be replaced, you cannot be. Im glad youre OK.”

Repeat it if you have to, ensuring that your teenager not only fully understands the statement, but that you mean it, above everything else. It’s important to get that said and understood well before getting into “blame” and “fault” issues. It’s also important to continue to say it in the days and weeks afterwards, when guilt and other accident-related situations have to be dealt with.

As soon as you know he is OK, refrain from unloading on him with anger and blame, then find out where he is located and plan to meet him there.

What you do immediately after that depends on many things, a few of which can be decided before an accident ever happens. During the time you are teaching your teen to drive, don’t forget about teaching him what to do in an accident. I know none of us want to even think that could happen, and we may even forget that we need to teach a new driver about the do’s and don’ts of an accident scene. However, the more we prepare and talk about the inevitable, the better equipped your teen will be when and if such an event occurs.

Make sure your teen driver knows the following and is able to act on them. Remind them that, yes, they are going to be shaken up but try to remain as calm as possible. It may even be a good idea to put an “accident checklist” in the glove box of the car or on your teen’s notepad on their phone so they can go through the list slowly, ensuring they don’t forget any crucial steps.

Prep for emergencies:

  1. Take note of the exact time of the accident, putting it in your phone or jotting it down on paper. This may help later with scene analysis.
  1. Pull over to the side of the road (if possible), getting out of the way of thru traffic.
  1. If there is any fluid leaking from the car, even if you suspect it is NOT gasoline, call 911 immediately.
  1. Call for police or highway patrol assistance, and if you suspect any injury either with yourself or other motorist(s), don’t hesitate to call for medical assistance or an ambulance to come to the scene.
  1. Make no statements to other motorists, admitting fault or any other actions, even if you’re 100% sure it wasn’t your fault. Let law enforcement analyze the scene and ask questions.
  1. Cooperate fully with police when they arrive.
  1. Use your phone to take photos of the scene and all cars.
  1. While the accident is fresh in your head, make notes of what happened, and if there are any witnesses available, get their names and numbers.

Having such a list and continuing to educate your teen driver on accident preparedness is not only necessary, it is the difference between reacting wisely or stupidly.

Finally, during those first few months of your teen driving solo, remind them that as a legally licensed driver behind the wheel of an automobile, they have a duty of care” to all other drivers, passengers, bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians. If this duty is “breached” through careless or reckless driving and someone is injured as a result, civil liability follows, meaning the driver (usually through his or her insurance company) will be liable for medical bills, lost income and other losses stemming from the accident. This “duty” never goes away, and it is the sole responsibility of the driver, no matter how long they’ve been driving. New drivers don’t get a pass from “duty of care.” On the contrary, they need to diligently exercise it and be reminded that driving means sharing the road responsibility every time you get on it, no matter how many years you’re behind the wheel.

More information on welcoming a teen driver and tips to talk to your teen driver here.