Parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers—at one time or other, we all worry about our teens behind the wheel of a car. Although licensed teens have attended driver’s education programs and passed the state examination to receive a driver’s license, we still worry about their lack of road experience.
On average, it takes a person five years of regular driving to feel comfortable behind the wheel, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. You can help your teen to feel more confident and safe behind the wheel (and help yourself to breathe more calmly) by providing them with experiences and resources to understand driving better. Who knows; you might even learn more about how to be a better driver yourself.
Review the State Manual
Before your child takes the driving test, read the state driver’s manual with your teen. The manual provides information about how to handle various road conditions and situations. It also gives parents tips about how they can help their children become safe drivers from the passenger seat. By reviewing the manual and practicing its guidelines, teens will learn different aspects of driving that may be glossed over in driver’s ed class. By refreshing their understanding of road rules and techniques, parents help their teens—and themselves—become safer drivers.
The state manual can be found in hard copy at your local DMV or in PDF at your state’s DMV website.
Pick up Some Literature
Various books include step-by-step plans for improving your teen’s braking, car control, and defensive driving skills. They also provide instruction on handling road emergencies, distractions, and basic car maintenance. Check out Timothy C. Smith’s Crash Proof Your Kids: Make Your Teen a Safer, Smarter Driver and Karen Gravelle’s The Driving Book: Everything a New Driver Needs to Know.
Attend a Workshop
Although manuals and books provide vital information, they may not be enough to instill safe driving habits in your teen. Today, car crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths. In fact, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 40 percent of teen deaths are due to vehicle crashes. In order to combat this statistic, several car and insurance companies began intensive programs and workshops for teens and parents. In such a program, the instructor, who is usually a professional driver, first teaches in a classroom and then takes the students driving to apply what they have learned.
While behind the wheel, teens are given exercises that introduce them to distractions such as music, texting, passengers, and food. There are also exercises designed to help teens understand functions of their car such as anti-lock brakes. Many of the programs have students wear goggles while driving that simulate how it feels to be alcohol impaired. These driving programs are offered across the country and most are free.
Teen Driving Classes
Driver’s Edge: driversedge.org
Ford Driving Skills for Life: drivingskillsforlife.com
Toyota Driving Expectations: toyotadrivingexpectations.com
Tire Rack Street Survival: streetsurvival.org
Allstate’s Distracted Driving Family Challenge: allstate.com/teen
The Allstate Foundation Safe Driving Teen Program: allstate.com/foundation/teen-safe-driving.aspx
The Autobahn Country Club Joliet Teen Driving Academy: 1 -630-825-TEEN (1-630-825-8336) or drivefastbesafe.com/Autobahn_Teen_Driving_Academy.html
American Family Insurance Teen Safe Driving Program: teensafedriver.com
Learn about the GDL
Another method to ensure the safety of teen drivers is the Graduated Driver’s License (GDL), a growing program supported by the National Safety Council. This program is set up to ease new teen drivers into driving through a series of graduated steps. First, the teen is given a student driver’s permit with which they can only drive with parents. They must drive a certain number of hours before they can test for a license. After passing a driving test, the teen receives an intermediate or provisional license, which allows unsupervised driving under certain restrictions and restricts passengers of certain ages. After a certain period of time, teens are finally granted a driver’s license with full privileges. In states with strict GDL laws, teen crashes have been reduced 20 to 40 percent in recent years. Even if your state doesn’t have strict standards, you might consider adopting something similar in your family. To learn more about it, check out betterteendriving.com and nsc.org/safety_road/TeenDriving/GDL/Pages/GraduatedDriverLicensing.aspx.
With so many resources, our teens can feel safer and drive safer on the road. They can learn and internalize the freedoms and responsibilities that come with having a driver’s license without endangering themselves or others.
Quick Tips: Driving Errors that Lead to Crashes
• Multi-tasking: When you turn on the car, turn off the gadgets. No matter how busy your day is, when you're on the road, focus only on driving. Catch up on other activities later.
• Following too closely: Count—one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three. That's about three seconds, and that's the cushion that should be between you and the vehicle ahead. That distance could save not only your bumper, but also your life. Mark a spot (such as a sign or tree) which the car in front of you passes and count until you reach it. Make sure to double or triple the time when the weather is bad or the pavement is slick.
• Failure to yield on a left-hand turn: Check the flow before you go. Also, look at the street onto which you are turning to make sure there are no vehicles or pedestrians in your path.
• Incorrect merging: That yield sign means just that: yield—not stop. Accidents often occur when you are stuck behind a driver entering a highway who interprets yield as a dead stop. Don't be the guilty party. Use the ramp as a means for merging into traffic, not causing traffic.
• Backing up without looking: You don't have eyes in the back of your head, so look over your shoulder when you put the car in reverse. Remember, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Your side and rearview mirrors have a margin of error, so don't rely on them alone. Look over your shoulder before backing up, and go slowly.
• Being a naïve driver: You can’t rely on others always being safe drivers. Pay attention to the behavior of cars around you. Be a defensive driver. Don’t jump the gun at lights or take corners too fast; there may be a careless driver trying to run the light or a child around the next corner. Be actively responsible for your own safety and the safety of your passengers.