“It only takes a second to end a life.”

Those are the words that Capt. Tom Didone of the Montgomery County Police Department stresses to high school students over and over again as he travels the region urging them to make smart decisions when they get behind the wheel. Sadly, it is also a phrase Capt. Didone is all-too-familiar with.

As explained in the Washington Post,, Capt. Didone lost his only son, Ryan Didone, in a fatal car accident in 2008. At the young age of 15, Ryan was riding in the back seat of his friend’s station wagon when the driver lost control of the vehicle going around a curve, ran off the road and hit a tree. Unfortunately, this is a story we hear far too often.

As parents, we hope to provide our teens with enough guidance to make the right choices as they mature into skilled, confident and experienced drivers. But, what can we do to help them stay safe and make wise decisions along the way? How can we help them make up for their lack of experience on the roadways?

Our I Know Everything program, now being implemented in Virginia in conjunction with The Supreme Court of Virginia, has valuable advice for both teens and parents on how to best prepare teens for the road ahead. In the meantime, here are a few suggestions to help parents answer those challenging questions:

  1. Knowledge is power. In this case, knowledge is safety, and as parents, our teen’s safety is the number one priority. Fill them in on the importance of paying attention, 100 percent of the time, on their driving. And, remind them that there are other drivers on the road who could potentially put them in harm’s way, so the more they focus on the road, the safer they’ll be.
  2. Be good role models. Research has shown that parents are the main influencers in a teen driver’s decision making. That means that when they aren’t rolling their eyes at you, they’re pointing them your way. Your teen is constantly watching what you do, and what you do still plays a significant role in the actions they take when you’re not around. So, remember to always drive safely and set a good example that mirrors the way you want your teen to drive — especially when your teen is with you.
  3. Lay down the law. Exercise your parental authority. Reinforce the fact that driving is a privilege — not a right — and, if necessary, punish careless or bad driving behavior. It’s for their own good. Let them know your expectations (like reminding them to wear their seatbelt and put down the cell phone while driving) and the consequences for failing to live up to those expectations.

What happened to Capt. Didone’s son, Ryan, is indeed a tragedy. And, through working hard to make sure their teens really do know everything there is to know about safe driving, parents can help make stories like Ryan’s much less common.