For a 16-year-old, getting a driver's license feels like earning a passport to freedom. It's one of the first real steps toward adulthood. "When I learned to drive, it meant I could go places without having to depend on my parents to get me there," says Sarah Spool, 19, of Worcester, Mass., a licensed driver for two years.
As the parent of a new driver, you may have mixed feelings about this big event. You want your teenager to learn adult responsibilities, yet you know that driving involves risk. Each year, car crashes take more teen lives than cancer and all other diseases combined.
Rest assured, there are things that you can do before and after your teen gets a driver's license to prepare him or her to drive safely. Together, you and your teenager can negotiate the challenges of learning to drive.
Start in the driver's seat
Learning to be a good driver begins long before your child is old enough to take lessons. It starts with watching you drive. "My parents are good drivers," Ms. Spool says. "I learned a lot by watching them."
Experts agree that parents teach children a great deal about driving before the children ever get behind the wheel. It may not always seem like it, but you are your child's most influential role model. If you make a habit out of racing to beat yellow lights, so will your teen.
So take a look at your own driving, and follow these simple rules: always wear your seat belt, follow traffic rules, obey the speed limit and drive defensively. Your good habits just may rub off.
Practice makes a safe driver
Contrary to what many people think, more collisions involving teenage drivers are caused by inexperience or speed than by alcohol or drugs. Driving is a complex task that requires the ability to quickly analyze a situation and make the proper response. Most young people don't have the experience needed to do this.
In an emergency, a younger driver may overreact and lose control of the car. Like Ms. Spool, most teenagers take driver's education to learn how to drive. Driver's education can help teach the basics, but it's no substitute for hands-on-the-wheel experience. "The classroom part didn't help that much," Ms. Spool says. "We had to know the rules to get our learner's permit, and we spent time on 'scenarios.' But talking about driving isn't the same as doing it."
You can help make the process of learning to drive safer for your child. First, choose a safe car for your teen to drive. Larger, heavier cars, preferably with safety features such as antilock brakes, are safer to drive than smaller cars. Then spend plenty of time riding with your teen while he or she gains experience behind the wheel. In some states, beginning drivers must be supervised for a certain number of hours before they are granted a full driver's license.
Expose your child to a variety of driving conditions. Take your child to a parking lot to learn how to handle the car in slippery conditions. Drive together in the rain, at night, on large and small roads, and at dusk when it's harder to see. Give your teenager positive, constructive feedback to help build confidence. Even after your teen gets a driver's license, continue to supervise his or her driving until you are both confident in your child's driving skills.
Make a driving contract
Because driving involves both responsibility and risk, it is important to set clear limits. You can do this by agreeing to a driving contract with your teen before he or she begins to drive. The contract should define clear rules.
It should also make clear what will happen if your child breaks those rules. Here are some suggestions:
- Set a curfew and place restrictions on driving at night. When teenagers drive at night, it's usually for recreation, and they are less able to concentrate on driving.
- Put a limit on the number of other teens allowed in the car without an adult present. Some states restrict the number of teenage passengers a teenage driver can have.
- Insist that the driver and all passengers wear seat belts and that the driver obey all traffic laws.
- Specify clear procedures to follow in case of an emergency or a collision.
- Agree on who is responsible for keeping track of and paying for routine maintenance and repair of the car.
- Agree on penalties for breaking the contract.
For Ms. Spool, permission to drive was a sign of the trust her parents had in her maturity. "I knew the rules," she says. "If I broke them, my mother would take away the car. There was no doubt about that."Graduating with honors
By being a good role model, providing your teen with plenty of supervised driving time, and setting clear expectations, you can help your teen become a safe driver and ease your own concerns. Ms. Spool says the best advice her parents gave when she started to drive was "trust your instincts." With their help and guidance, she has learned how to do just that.Teenagers and alcohol
It is illegal for teenagers to drink alcohol
, and in many states the laws for teenage drivers who drink are stricter than those for adults. But the laws do not stop all teenagers from drinking. So it is important for you as a parent to set clear limits about drinking and driving, and to let your teen know the consequences of drinking and driving.
Talk with your teenager about how deadly it can be to get into a car with a driver who has been drinking. Consider making an agreement with your teenager about what to do if such a situation arises.
- One plan is to tell your teen to call if he or she can't get home safely. This may be most likely to work if you promise to provide a way home with no questions asked.
- Another option is to buy "cool taxi" coupons for your teen. The coupons can be used in any Quebec taxi and has no expiration date. For more information, visit www.cooltaxiquebec.ca
Talk openly with your child about the risks of drinking and driving. And never drink and drive yourself.
2008 Campaign- Impaired Driving
To make young people aged 16 to 24 aware that impaired driving can have dramatic consequences, as much for friends and family of the victims as for the victims themselves, the Société is rebroadcasting the 60-second version of a TV commercial.
Reviewed by Trauma specialists at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
Last updated: July 2011