Handing over the car keys to an inexperienced teen driver is like handing over a loaded gun. But there are ways to reduce the risks.
Make it clear that the cell phone is not to be in your teen's hands while he or she is driving -- no calling or texting. Research suggests that using a cell phone while driving presents as much of a risk as driving under the influence.
Draft a safety agreement with your teen, outlining critical rules like no drinking or getting high in the car, wearing seatbelts at all times no matter how far they're driving, and agreeing to be home at a certain hour. Signing an agreement, making things crystal clear, can help teens take consequences more seriously.
That said, be sure your teen knows that if he or she is in trouble or has had too much to drink, that calling you is not only okay, but far better than getting behind the wheel or into a car with a friend who's intoxicated. Let them know that there will be no questions asked at that moment.
Look into a driving education program that goes beyond the basics. One of my favorites, Driver's Edge, was founded by a professional racecar driver. Offered around the country, the program teaches kids how to get a car under control in potentially deadly situations.
And finally...practice, practice, practice! Let your teen drive you around everywhere -- he or she will become a better driver and you get a chauffeur!