Lesson 14: Stay Safe in a Traffic Jam

Most drivers have experienced the frustrations of traffic jams, but before your teen gets into one, he or she needs to know what to expect. Vehicles in these situations may not move at high speeds, but that slow pace can create a false sense of security. Drivers may be more likely to use their phones, neglect their turn signals and brake at the last minute if they think the risks are low. Here is what your teen needs to know about staying safe in gridlock.

Leave an Out

No one is happy to be stuck in traffic. For your teen, that means he or she shouldn’t expect a lot of courtesy: the slightest delay earns you horn honks, and drivers may be more likely to merge without signaling or even looking. Fortunately, your teen can counter many of these dangers by simply leaving an out. That means leaving extra room between vehicles instead of stopping right behind the next car. Other drivers may take advantage and cut into this open space, but teach your teen to resist the urge to tailgate. The extra stopping distance can come in handy if the next driver brakes suddenly or the one behind is distracted and doesn’t brake fast enough.

Pay Attention and Expect the Worst

Defensive driving will help protect your teen in most roadway situations, but traffic jams demand an extra level of attention. Your teen must always focus on the surrounding drivers, and regularly check the vehicle’s mirrors, even if he or she isn’t planning to change lanes. It can help to go into traffic expecting the worst: distracted, selfish and irritated drivers. This way, your teen can avoid distractions and prepare for others to make bad decisions, instead of being caught off guard. Eventually, once the traffic clears up, your teen can ease back into a more normal habit of scanning the road.

Practice: Heading out for a drive in traffic with your teen may not be your idea of a relaxing time, but it’s much safer than sending your teen into traffic for the first time alone. On a practice drive like this, point out to your teen where the traffic seems to be slowing so he or she can adjust the vehicle’s speed appropriately. Help keep your teen calm when other drivers honk or cut you both off, and remind your teen that crashes and injuries can happen at any speed. In the future, make sure your teen lets you know any time he or she plans to drive alone on the highway.


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