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Teen Driving

Teen Driving
A license to drive shouldn't come with unlimited freedom. Parents need to continue setting limits and even driving with their teens while they gain some necessary experience and judgment behind the wheel.

What's Up?

If you think your teen's brand-new license to drive is your ticket to freedom, think again. Parents need to monitor their new drivers now, more than ever.

Teaching Your Teenager to Drive

What to Do and What to Expect

Teaching your teen to drive requires considerable patience, empathy, and the knowledge of what is needed to best prepare her to become a skilled, responsible driver. Many parents understandably approach this task with trepidation and high anxiety. The following suggestions, facts, and tips will help you know what to do and what to expect when you and your teen put the rubber to the road.

# Although many kids still take some formal driver-education training before they get their driver's license, the most influential training they receive comes from observing their parents' behind-the-wheel skills, judgment, and behavior.

# Motor vehicle accidents are the primary cause of death among our nation's teens, killing 5,000 youngsters each year. This fact alone suggests that parents need to establish clear and firm conditions, limits, and rules regarding their teens' obtaining their licenses.

Veteran driver-education instructors usually recommend at least 40 hours of supervised driving (most states require only 6) on all kinds of roads and in all kinds of situations (nighttime driving, rush hour driving, driving in the rain and snow, etc.).

# Once you have told your teen that you will allow her to begin learning to drive, let her be the one to take the initiative to get the driver-education ball rolling. If your teen is not driving you crazy about teaching her to drive, she's probably too nervous to begin the process. Don't bring up the question of her anxiety. Just let her know you're ready to begin when she's ready.

# If you are going to be your teen's driving coach/instructor, it's essential that you both know what to expect from each other before you get in the car together. It's always best for your child to know beforehand where you're taking him and what you'll be working on: "Today we're going on Route 128 during rush hour to practice high-speed driving, changing lanes and getting on and off exit ramps."

# A teenager's physical dexterity and reflexes are finely tuned at this stage of his psychomotor development. Parents can see and be comforted by their child's improving physical skills behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, teenagers are not so mature in their psychological stages of development, where they feel invincible, act impulsively, and are given to risk-taking. (Read Caution: Teen at the Wheel.) How is you teen's day-to-day behavior? How does she handle frustration? Do you always have to tell him to fasten his seatbelt?

Parents need to ask questions like these to give themselves an idea of how ready their kids are to drive safely and responsibly.

You must stand firm in refusing to let your child obtain a learner's permit if he is exhibiting worrisome, dangerous behaviors or if he otherwise indicates that he is not ready emotionally to drive.

# Here are some tips for creating a comfortable parent/child learning environment in the car:

1. Don't talk down to your teen or treat him like a little kid when you're coaching him. Avoid negative character comments: "You're a dangerous driver. You're distracted too easily." Praise specific progress and improvement, while offering non-judgmental, optimistic encouraging words: "You're remembering your directional signals almost every time now. Pretty soon you'll do it automatically all the time, without even thinking."

2. Your comments should make your teen more aware, rather than feel shamed or judged. Instead of yelling, "You're going to get us a speeding ticket!" you might calmly ask, "What's the speed limit on this road?"

3. Don't use instructional time in the car to discipline your teen about other matters ("Why didn't you clean up the family room last night like you were supposed to?"). Your budding driver will feel badgered and become distracted by such comments. Keep the conversation light and chatty.

# It's a rare parent who can teach his teen to drive without experiencing some anxiety. If you can't keep your anxiety in check and it's turning the teaching experience into a tension-filled meltdown zone, do your child and yourself a favor and hand over the teacher's role to another family member, a trusted adult, or a professional driving instructor who is more suited temperamentally for this important task. Acknowledge feeling too nervous to be a good teacher and don't blame your teen for your anxiety.

The Statistics are Alarming

It may be tempting for parents to allow their newly licensed teens to drive themselves to their friends' houses or pick up a few things at the grocery. After all, they are actually eager to do the chores parents have grumbled about for years. But before they sit back and leave the driving to their kids, parents need to be aware of some disturbing statistics regarding teen drivers.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, crashes are the leading cause of death among American teens, accounting for more than one-third of all deaths of 16- to 18-year-olds. This should be reason enough for parents to take their teens' driving very seriously and to insist that their teens do, too. And if beginning drivers complain about too many limits and too little freedom behind the wheel, parents can show them the following data from the IIHS:

# Teen drivers have the highest crash risk of any age group.

# Compared with crashes of older drivers, those of 16 year-olds more often involve driver error.

# More of 16-year-olds' fatal crashes involve only the teen's vehicle.

# Sixteen year-olds' fatal crashes are more likely to occur when other teenagers are in the car. The risk increases with every additional passenger.

# Per mile driven, the nighttime fatal crash rate for 16-year-olds is about twice as high as during the day.

# Teenagers generally are less likely than adults to use safety belts.

Obviously teens need to drive to get experience, but that doesn't mean they should have unlimited access to the car or be allowed to ferry friends around day and night the minute they get their licenses. Parents can make this time as safe as possible by accompanying them on their excursions, insisting on seat belt use, and allowing brand new drivers to use the car only during the day at first. As teens get more practice hours under their belts, parents can gradually allow them more freedom. As the statistics show, it takes more than a license to be a good driver -- it also takes patience and practice, and good parenting.

Your Teen Behind the Wheel: Will it Drive You Nuts?

Are you terrified by the thought of your 16-year-old behind the wheel?

You're right to be nervous. According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 27. Teen drivers are at risk for collisions because of their inexperience and immaturity.

Newly-licensed drivers are especially vulnerable because they typically haven't had enough practice to master the complex, split-second decision-making that driving a car requires. Adding passengers to the mix increases the danger.

"The culture in a car changes completely when you get a gang of teenagers in it," says Julie Rochman, director of communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "Teens think they are super-people and they take risks adults would not."

But careful teen drivers are made, not born.

What Parents Can Do

Requiring your child to take driver's education is a good first step (and cuts your car insurance costs). But a course will only teach your teen the rules of the road and how to pass the driver's license test. Students may spend 30 hours in the classroom, but as little as 6 hours actually driving.

That's why you have to give your child many more hours of supervised practice on the road in various kinds of weather and driving conditions. Some experts recommend that teens have at least 200 hours of driving time before they apply for their licenses.

Graduated Licensing Saves Lives

Approximately half the states now have three-part graduated licensing, and others are considering such laws this year. Provisions vary widely, but the typical steps are:

# Learner's permit. Adult supervision is required at all times, no other passengers are allowed, and the teen can't move to the next stage until six months have elapsed with no traffic citations.

# Provisional license. The teen must have logged a specified number of supervised driving hours with the learner's permit. A young driver may drive unsupervised during daylight, but only with an adult at night. The number of passengers may be limited.

# Full license. This is issued to teens who've driven with no infractions for a specified period of time while provisionally licensed.

Regardless of your state's law, experts say that your teen should not be allowed to drive unsupervised with other teen passengers for the first six months after obtaining a full license.

Set a Good Example

You're the driving role model for your children. They need to see you consistently buckle up, obey traffic laws, never speed, refrain from chatting on the cell phone, be courteous to pedestrians and other drivers, and stay calm when traffic is particularly frustrating.

Other Factors, Not Age, Determine a Readiness to Drive

Maturity and responsibility are not time-acquired behaviors; that is, a child does not become mature at 16, 18, or 21, nor does he acquire appropriate responsibility at a specific age. These behaviors are acquired through learning. If your child is not showing an appropriate level of maturity or responsibility for his age, he has not learned them.


Responsibility generally means doing what you have to do because you have to do it, not because you want to do it. It involves duties, chores, and other tasks. On the part of the teenager, it may involve schoolwork, picking up after himself, taking care of his room, coming home on time, and many other similar behaviors.

Helping the Teenager Develop Appropriate Behavior

If you have a teenager whose emotional attitude and behavior are not at a level that would allow you to trust him and let him get a driver's license or use the car, there are several things that can be done to help build this trust.

Being able to earn a driver's license and drive are powerful motivators during adolescence. They can be used to the parent's positive advantage. Use of the car and driving privileges should be based on behavior, not age. Try to look for responsible and mature behaviors that indicate the child is capable enough to handle this privilege. If you feel that you cannot trust the child to drive because he is not showing appropriate behaviors in other areas, spell out exactly what he must do to earn this privilege. Monitor his behavior and give or take away the privilege consistently. He should know exactly what he has to do in order to obtain his driver's license or use the car. He should also know what he must or must not do in order to be restricted from these privileges.

If you are like most parents, when your teenager begins taking the steps towards getting a driver's license, you will experience intermittent waves of anxiety and excitement. Anxiety over the prospect of your child driving a car; after all, driving accidents are the leading cause of death among American youth. (In 2000, for example, there were over 2 million teenage driving accidents and over 6,000 fatalities.) Excitement over your new-found freedom from having to play chauffeur on twenty-four-hour call. But just below the surface of these two dominant emotions, most parents will detect a small current of grief. And this grief is twofold.

The car is an integral part of most teenagers' lives, whether they choose to get their licenses or not. Smart parents understand this reality and work with it to improve the connection they have with their teenager. Recognizing that sitting together in the car, whether they are sitting side by side or front and back, is a natural setting for the new relationship of parent as consultant. The intensity of face-to-face contact is diminished, which allows for more flow in conversation. Never be surprised by what is said in the car, whether it be on a short trip to the grocery store, on a long journey for summer vacation, or in a typical Tuesday carpool. Big moments happen during transitions, which means rides in the car-by definition always a transition-present a myriad of opportunities.

Copyright ©, 2006-2008: Teen: Teen Driving