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If you have noticed your teen practicing dangerous driving habits, don’t worry; it’s not too late! You can still help him to be a good safe driver. There are two levels of bad driving habits. Level one habits are ones that your teen does subconsciously; they are ones that can be easily corrected. Level two habits are habits teens choose to do because they get a benefit, such as talking on a cell phone while driving – the benefit is talking to a friend. Level two bad habits are more serious and more difficult to correct.

Here are the most common bad habits:

Level 1

Level 2

Failure to adequately check blind spots


Forgetting to signal

Not wearing a seatbelt

Jerky movements


Sloppy turns

Talking on a cell phone while driving

Inconsiderate of other drivers on the road (i.e. refusing to let other cars change lanes or merge into traffic flow)

Accelerating through yellow lights

Backing up the car without turning head to look thoroughly behind


Failing to reduce speed in potentially hazardous zones such as neighborhoods, construction zones, etc.

Playing loud music

Changing Level one bad habits is relatively easy. It is simply a matter of being reminded. Your teen probably isn’t even aware he is doing these dangerous habits. Focus on immediately changing all of the Level one habits. Your teen is not likely to resist changing these habits because there is no perceived benefit. If you constantly remind her with verbal reminders and notes, she will develop the correct safe habit. Also, while you are driving your teen, point out how to correctly do something you know she does wrong. Say something like, “Whenever you plan to make a left-hand turn onto Main St. you always need to start signaling when you see the yellow sign, this way the people behind you will know in advance that you will be turning.” Saying it like this doesn’t seem like criticism to your teen and she will remember ‘signal at yellow sign.’

Changing Level two habits is more difficult because your teen chooses to do them because of a perceived benefit.

Your teen is more likely to be defensive or be in denial about these bad habits. Deal with the Level two habits one at a time. Look at your teen’s Level two habits and narrow them down to the most dangerous one.

Steps to Changing Level two Bad Habits:

  1. Identify – Be aware of the bad habit(s).
  2. Isolate – Focus on the worst bad habit.
  3. Motivate – Motivate your teen to stop doing the bad habit.
  4. Change Behavior – Correct the behavior by using a combination of:
  • Positive Reinforcement - Rewards
  • Negative Reinforcement – Penalties

The rewards and penalties should vary depending on the severity of the bad habit. You want to pick a meaningful reward to use as leverage to persuade your teen to stop doing the bad habit. Once she has corrected the bad habit or hasn’t done it in a long time give her the promised reward. (For example, give your teen gas money, allowance, let him go on the spring break trip, keep her part-time job, etc.).

Also, use various penalties each time your teen is caught practicing the bad habit. (For example, if your teen continues to blare his music, disconnect his stereo, or if your teen continues to talk on her cell phone while driving, temporarily confiscate it or even cancel the plan. Another possible penalty is taking away certain driving privileges such as driving at night, etc.). Remember to take on these bad habits one at a time, so you don’t overwhelm your teen with negativity.

It’s not too late to change your teen’s bad habits; help your teen reduce his risk of a preventable accident.