Tips for Teen Drivers and Nervous Parents
The big day arrived. My son was old enough to get his learner's permit. Years ago, I remember joking with other parents about the future. Can you just imagine so-and-so driving? Then we'd all laugh. Now D-Day was here and it didn't seem quite as funny. The permit with his name on it induced a flashback for me — my mom telling everyone who would listen that I used to go on red and stop on green.
I still took the leap. I drove him to a quiet neighborhood on the way home from the motor vehicle office. Except for the whiplash, he did pretty well. The hardest part came later when we ventured onto the main roads. The problem with main roads is that there are things in the way — other cars, confused squirrels, road crews.
It's no wonder parents are nervous. The statistics are alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash." Reports by the CDC also conclude that teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous or potentially hazardous situations.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association provides yet another shocking analysis: "Among 15- to 20-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2008, 31 percent of the drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes had been drinking." Then there is the latest hazard: texting while driving, which is illegal in North Carolina.
State laws have changed in response to these statistics. There are new graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws in many states, like North Carolina, that require teens to follow a stricter protocol before a senior license is issued. These laws have a supervised learning period and an intermediate license period before teens can get their full-privilege license. There are also more restrictions for new drivers, such as not being allowed to drive with more than one passenger under 21 and not using a mobile phone except in case of an emergency.
First time out
Although teens in North Carolina take a driver's education class prior to getting their limited learner permit, the period behind the wheel is short and the driving instructor has a brake. Keep the following in mind when your teen is in the driver's seat and you're the passenger.
* Don't force your teen to drive before she is ready.
* After your teen has practiced using the accelerator, brake and steering wheel in your vehicle, take him to roads with traffic lights, pedestrian walkways and higher speed limits.
* Practice makes perfect. Give your teen as many opportunities to drive with you as possible.
* Talk to your teen about the hazards of drinking and driving and the danger of distracted driving.
David Melton, director of transportation consulting services at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety in Hopkinton, Mass., says, "Our expectations of how our kids drive must be very clear. Put expectations in writing and remind your teens of them regularly."
Melton encourages parents to be good role models. "Your teens will expect you to exhibit the same safe driving behaviors as you require of them."
Lifelong safety behind the wheel
"Just because your teen has obtained his license, that doesn't mean he has the experience he needs to cope with the driving situations he'll face," Melton explains. "Talk to your teen about driving safety, and do it often. We know from years of research that teens who say they have regular conversations with their parents about driving safety are less likely to exhibit destructive behaviors, like speeding and driving under the influence."
Driving safety should be an ongoing discussion. It's good for everyone to be reminded of safe driving strategies. Defensive driving courses are for experienced drivers too.
Myrna Beth Haskell is a freelance writer specializing in parenting issues and children's development. She is the mother of two teenagers.
Tips and Tales from Other Parents
"Let your teen driver know that if the car doesn't rock backward at a stop sign (meaning you've truly come to a complete stop), you will be changing seats as soon as he or she can pull over." — Lisa Oliver
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