As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Australia’s Best New Car News, Reviews and Buying Advice

Before You Hand Your Teenager the Car Keys

It’s a big moment in anybody’s life when they first get handed the keys to the family car.  How well I remember my first drive in the family’s VW Beetle… It’s also a big moment for parents when they put their teenager in the driver’s seat of the car and let them head out onto the road for the first time.

While your teenager is on their L licence, everyone in the family knows their roles and responsibilities: your teenager isn’t allowed to drive unless there’s an experienced driver in the car with them (preferably in the front passenger seat) as they clock up the hours in their log book.  The only debate that might crop up at this stage is who counts as an “experienced driver” – your teenager might try to convince you that their best friend’s big brother counts.  But it’s when your teenager gets their P licence and can drive solo that you need to set some family rules.

First of all, congratulate your teenager on passing.  It’s big achievement for them, and it’s important to focus on this positive before getting into the more controversial stuff and the rules.  They’re another step closer to being a fully independent adult! (Try to forget that time when they were four and rode their bike straight into the only tree in an open space).

Many of the rules and restrictions are already spelled out by law.  These will govern the sort of car your teen is allowed to drive with P-plates (if you’re not sure whether your teenager is allowed to drive your family Holden Commodore, to take one example, have a look at this VicRoads database. It saves a lot of arguments). The peer passenger restriction also makes it strictly illegal for your teen to cart their friends around unless someone over the age of 23 is in the car.  (Note: the rules in this paragraph apply to the state of Victoria; other states have other rules, but they’re all pretty similar).  The important thing for parents here is to be sticklers and enforce the laws of the land strictly.

And you’ve got to set some family restrictions.  Being able to drive solo is a huge responsibility and gives a larger measure of freedom to your teenager.  It’s highly likely that your teenager is driving the family car rather than their own, and as your name is on the ownership papers and you have to pay for things like the insurance and all the rest of it, you get a say in how the car gets used.  The exact rules that your family sets will be unique to your situation, but it is probably a good idea to discuss the following points and make the rules clear:

Who pays for the petrol?  And who is responsible for getting the car topped up?  Does your teen have to do any of the car maintenance that you can do at home (rotating tyres, checking and topping up the oil, etc.)? Who pays for any repairs if your teen has a ding?

What responsibilities come with the privilege of using the family car?  For example, if your teen is allowed to drive to school, do they have to take younger siblings? (If the answer to this is yes, it might pay to have a talk with the younger sibling about acceptable behaviour when Big Brother/Sister is behind the wheel). 

Will the car keys and the ability to drive be granted automatically to your teenager? Or do parents have the ability to withhold driving privileges if, for example, your teenager has been behaving badly at school?

What will be the consequences of violating the legal rules (whether or not your teenager gets caught by the cops)? What about violating family rules?

Don’t make this conversation too heavy.  Remember to begin and end this conversation with congratulations and a positive attitude.