Teaching Teen Drivers

. May 29, 2015.

Anticipating your child’s readiness to get behind the wheel is a modern-day, coming-of-age ritual for teens and parents alike. Whether the teen is bold or timid about the prospect of turning over the ignition, the journey from passenger to licensed driver can seem like a confusing maze of driver education combined with responsibility and character development. Parents are challenged to carefully gauge the teen’s maturity and skill level each step along the way.

It is easy to feel intimidated by the risk involved in driving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that car crashes are the number one cause of death for teens and take about 3,000 young lives every year. Inexperience is cited as the leading cause. Teen drivers are four times likelier to crash than older drivers.

Take heart. As the most important influence in the lives of teens learning to drive, parents can make a critical difference. Here are a few “Rules of the Road” to follow.

Build a partnership. Find a way for the teen to have a voice about when they are ready for the responsibility of driving. When peer pressure and other expectations about when driving should begin are eased, true self-assessment regarding capabilities and readiness can take place.

Some adolescents choose to. WAIT a little longer than age 16 or 17 before seeking to drive. Parents may need to be patient for the anticipated independence and help from the teen in transporting family members to school events.

Take an active role. in helping your teen learn to drive. Start the conversation about safe driving early and recognize that the rules and driving laws have changed since you acquired your license. Make regular time available to supervise your teen’s driving. Each state requires a minimum number of supervised driving hours to qualify for taking the driver test.

Professional Driver Education Recommended. Are you the one who can calmly talk a new driver through a lane change in heavy traffic without gripping the door handle and audibly sucking in your breath? The best person to sit in the passenger seat ready to prompt and cue a nervous teen, may or may not be the parent when it comes to more complex driving skills.

Consider the talent and comfort level. of adult members in your family. Often recommended, a professional driver education instructor can round out and fill in the gaps of what family members can provide. Additionally, driver educators typically provide training and tips for passing the driver test.

Train Attention. Nothing will bring a teen’s attention to the present moment like a traffic situation that requires the driver to hit the brakes and STOP. Everyone will need to take a deep breath when that happens. Coach your teen to notice the immediate surroundings. Proceed with caution and ignore the cell phone when it inevitably rings.

Take a personal inventory of where your attention is. while you, the parent, are driving and he or she, your teen, is watching. Is your attention on the road, in front, to the side and to the rear of you? Or, are you distracted by the radio, cell phone or an overfull cup of coffee?

Scan. Scanning in all directions is a key habit to model and encourage your teen to adopt. A 2007 Teenage Driving Study noted that new drivers tend to focus on the area just in front of the car. “They are less likely to scan a wider range of view, glance at objects in their peripheral view and are not as likely to use the mirrors.”

Riding with a professional driver can demonstrate these skills in action. While dating my professional truck driver husband, I was impressed by the remarkable range of his perceptions of the traffic all around us while he was driving on a congested urban highway. He easily anticipated moves the other cars would make and adjusted accordingly. Perhaps there is someone in your teen’s life who can offer an example of exceptional driving abilities.

Foster Defensive Driving. Defensive driving is more than a set of skills. It is an attitude that underlies the constant decisions your teen will make while driving. In addition to learning to adjust to varying road conditions and traffic situations your teen will need to adjust for other drivers who do not follow the rules.

Establish Family Driving Rules and Limits. All states now use varying elements of the graduated licensing system designed to increase the safety of teen drivers. Restrictions during the provisional licensing period usually include limited night driving and a ban or strict limits on the number of passengers.

Families can choose to set more specific rules and limits for their teen drivers. For example, you may want your teen to be off the road by 8pm even though the legal requirement is midnight. In addition to an ongoing conversation, parents may find it helpful to set specific rules and limits in a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement. An example can be found at www.cdc.gov/parentsarethekey/.

Prepare for the Test. Practice questions are available on the state Department of Motor Vehicles website to give a taste of what will be encountered in the computerized knowledge test. 

Take care that the vehicle used for testing. is one that your teen feels comfortable driving and carries current registration and insurance cards.

Drive Test Administrator Tony Handsaker urges teens to focus on their driving when they arrive for test day. He observes that often young people are distracted by texting. They may be sleepy. Sometimes teens are nervous when they come to take the drive test especially when they may not have had enough practice to be ready. Being prepared goes a long way toward making the drive test a positive experience.

Just as the driver’s manual says, “Driving is a privilege.” This concept may be the most important one for your teen to learn. Abusing the privilege can lead to harm or result in tragedy. Sometimes it is only after an accident that a young person realizes how much responsibility driving requires. Exposing your teen and family to presentations from those who have learned from poor judgment or preventable tragic errors may drive the message home and prevent the need to experience such things first hand.

Often a memorable moment, becoming a licensed driver is cause to celebrate for your teen. The license represents years of preparation and marks a new level of responsibility and maturity on the road toward adulthood.