No matter how many years we had to get used to the idea it was coming, it’s hard to come to terms with the fact our child who was once buckled up in a car seat is now old enough to be behind the wheel. I’m about two years away from a teen getting his driver’s permit. I see it coming. He already acts so mature I sometimes forget he’s only 13. But how will I feel when he’s behind the wheel?
Parents can have mixed feelings about a child becoming a driver. On the one hand it can free up our time to have them drive their self to sport practice or pick up a few groceries. On the other hand, those roads can be scary and that is our baby. (OK, don’t say that out loud. Teens don’t like to be called baby.)
With summer coming both of these can be especially true. Your teen is more likely to be out on the road with more places to go. And if your teen is a new driver, he is probably excited about this rite of passage. Although he may not admit it, he may also be a bit scared. While very exciting, driving is also a big responsibility.
After all roads are dangerous for teen drivers (and some would say visa versa). In fact, car crashes are the #1 killer of teens. That’s a big cause for concern. We’re parents. We worry. That’s what we do. But worrying won’t keep our teen driver safe. So what can we do?
Step 1: Breathe, You’ve Got This
In order for a teen to successfully and safely learn how to drive, parents have to let go of the wheel and practice patience, trust and cooperation, according to Kim Estes, child safety expert and founder of Savvy Parents Safe Kids.
“Driving is one of the biggest risks and leaps parents encounter with teens and also requires the biggest amount of trust from parents,” she says. “Collaboration, communication and taking the criticism down about 10 notches can help the parent-teen relationship during this time.”
Step 2: Prepare Your Child
To start, your teen driver should understand driving is a privilege, not a right. You as a parent can revoke that privilege.
No seriously, you can. You can submit a Request for Cancellation or Surrender of a Driver License or Identification Card form to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This will cancel your teen’s permit or driver’s license. (I didn’t know either.) This should only be used if your teen gets in a crash or caught driving recklessly.
It is likely your teen has access to a driver’s education course within the community or at school. This is a great start to learn the rules of the road and hopefully even get some driving experience with an instructor.
Inexperience is the top cause of accidents among teens.
Your teen will require 50 hours of supervised driving before she can take the driving test. And preparing your child to be a good driver will take a lot of hands-on practice in a variety of situations; cities, highways, neighborhoods, mountains (if you have them). All that supervision falls on you or another caregiver.
54% of teens wish their parents had spent more time teaching them the fundamentals of driving.
Before getting in the car, parents need to be proactive and talk with their kids about your concerns, their concerns and the many dangers of driving.
A review of the rules of the road may also help both of you prepare for daily cruises through the neighborhood. According to the All State Foundation, parents should begin talking about safe driving well before a teen applies for a driver’s permit. “Parents should begin a conversation by the junior high years and maintain an ongoing dialogue,” suggest the experts at All State.
Step 3: Prepare Thyself
Don’t know what to do after your chats? There’s an online coaching program called Coaching from the Passenger Seat. It’s a course for parents to guide them through 12 essential lessons with your teen driver. It goes through how to set up initial driving lessons in an empty parking lot.
Think of all the places your teen will be driving. Start with the obvious. Around the neighborhood. And spread out from there, school, the store, the mall, into town, etc.
Drive in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Drive in various conditions; sun, rain, fog, snow. Teach your teen to park, to back up. Have your teen drive in traffic, on the freeway, on narrow roads.
While reviewing your state’s road rules, such as speed limits, intersection protocols and phone usage guidelines, you have the opportunity to sharpen your own driving knowledge and educate your teen. Talk to your teen about driving situations while you are experiencing them, says Estes. “As you are about to change lanes, talk to your teen about the three things you should do before changing lanes,” she says.
Step 4: Practice What you Preach
You know this because you’ve seen your child copy you throughout the years so remember your teen is watching your every move. Set the example as a safe driver to educate your child and improve your own driving abilities while you’re at it.
“Don’t do things while driving that you don’t want your children to do, such as texting, driving aggressive or running yellow lights,” says Estes. Refrain from speeding, be courteous to other drivers, and never drink and drive.
It may also help your teen learn if you encourage him or her to observe, offer suggestions and ask questions about your driving. Don’t be defensive during the process, though, advises Estes. “If your driving relationship with each other has more of a collaborative feel to it, the more likely your teen is to follow your lead, ask questions and hopefully take less driving risks,” she says.
Step 5: Exploring the Risks
Teens tend to engage in risky behaviors. Remember they have a “it won’t happen to me” outlook on life. The Centers for Disease Control lists 8 danger zones as the top causes for teen driver collisions. Teens are involved in more car accidents than any other age group.
Inexperience is one of the biggest risks and one parents can help the most with. Being involved and supportive as your teens learn to drive helps them gain skills and confidence which can reduce their accident rate by as much as 50%.
Other dangers include: driving drowsy, driving with other teen passengers, drinking and driving, speeding, not wearing seat belts, driving at night and driving distracted. Coaching New Drivers also has an online Danger Zone Training for new teen drivers.
Step 6: Above and Beyond
Perhaps you start your teen driver on restricted access like only driving to and from school. As they get more experience and earn your trust, you can expand where, when and with whom they are allowed to drive.
It’s important your teen driver knows what is expected of him. For this reason, you may consider signing a teen driving contract that includes rules that both you and your teen driver will abide by. This way everyone is on the same page about your teen’s driving privileges.
In addition to basic safety like always wearing a seat belt and obeying traffic laws, your teens’ responsibilities should include calling home if they are late, changing plans, or cannot get home safely. Your teens should not let anyone drive the car or drive while intoxicated.
Step 7: Let’s Reiterate
Stay calm. Driving with your teen may make you nervous or anxious. But it’s important to calm your own emotions so you don’t inadvertently transfer those feelings to your child while she’s driving.
“Holding on to your seat or the dashboard with a death grip does nothing to instill calm or confidence in your teen driver,” says Estes
Keep criticism to a minimum, too. Instead of shouting “you are going too fast,” ask your teen open-ended questions. “Can you tell me what the posted speed limit is in this area?” A sharp or sarcastic tone may belittle your teen, who is most likely doing her best to obey the law and improve her skills.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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