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Monitoring Your Teen Driver

You survived trikes, training wheels, and bikes. Now your child is a teen and ready to join the driving world. As a parent, this time can be confusing and frightening. You may be familiar with the fact that car crashes are the number one cause of death for American teens between the ages of 15 and 17. A common misunderstanding is that all teenage drivers are careless, reckless, and just plain inconsiderate behind the wheel. Not your teen, you think? You're probably right.

By Lisa Hartley

You survived trikes, training wheels, and bikes. Now your child is a teen and ready to join the driving world. As a parent, this time can be confusing and frightening. You may be familiar with the fact that car crashes are the number one cause of death for American teens between the ages of 15 and 17. A common misunderstanding is that all teenage drivers are careless, reckless, and just plain inconsiderate behind the wheel. Not your teen, you think? You're probably right.

In fact, the most common danger teen drivers face is their own inexperience. Like so many other new experiences they face throughout adolescence, teen drivers need time, practice, and most important, your support and involvement, as they make the transition to the newest driver to your family. A driver's license is regulated through the state, but awarding the privilege to drive lies with you, the parent.

Some of the most common problematic situations for teen drivers occur when they are forced to divert their attention from the already complicated task of safely navigating the vehicle. to . Add another teenage passenger, adverse weather conditions, or a cell phone and the complications are compounded. The ability to foresee an obstacle in the road ahead and to know how to safely avert a crash takes more than two hands on the steering wheel and two eyes on the road. Driving is a highly cognitive activity and requires focus and concentration – for everyone. This is especially important for teens during their first year of licensure as they begin learning how to operate a vehicle, navigate the roads, and arrive safely at their destination.

Setting guidelines for your teen
A dilemma while learning to drive is that the only way to gain the ability to make informed and immediate decisions behind the wheel is to experience the complications that arise first-hand. However, it is precisely these complications that could cause crashes and injuries. While allowing your teen to experience difficult driving situations, such as busy freeways and nighttime driving, it is equally important to set guidelines on their driving privileges; this way they are not forced to face every complication and distraction all at the same time.

Formal driver's education and behind-the-wheel instruction will give your new driver the knowledge to physically operate the vehicle and to understand the laws of the road. However, ensuring that your teen becomes a safe driver necessitates a joint effort of formal education and your guidance. Once your teen has an instruction permit, commit to a practice schedule. According to the AAA Traffic Safety Programs, “The risk of a crash drops significantly among teens that have been supervised for 50 hours of practice driving before they drive solo.”

While focusing on the basics such as staying in one lane, merging with traffic, and following all traffic signs, your new driver may miss other crucial situations that arise. When you ride with your teen, you act as a second set of eyes, helping to adjust to road and weather conditions and allow the driver to concentrate on the already complicated task of driving from point A to point B. The more time you spend in the passenger's seat with your teen, the more comfortable you both will become as the new driver gradually gains the experience to drive under all conditions. Start by practicing in less complicated situations. For example, drive on neighborhood streets, in good weather, and when traffic levels are low. Gradually allow your teen to drive in more difficult situations such as at night, in poor weather, and on busy freeways. Sharing your experiences and providing feedback will significantly help ease your teen into safe driving habits.

Once your teen is licensed and legally ready to drive without supervision, remember that independent driving presents a whole new set of challenges for an inexperienced driver. Set guidelines to eliminate unnecessary distractions and difficulties that further complicate the task. Discuss your family's rules and expectations and create a plan of how to award further privileges such as allowing passengers, driving at night, and driving in all weather and road conditions. This will give your new driver the opportunity to safely acquire skills and to learn to react to potentially dangerous situations.

Even after your teen has a license, continue to monitor his development as a safe driver. Accompany your teen on errands or ask him to be the driver with you. From there, you will be better equipped to determine if your teen is ready for new challenges. Driving contracts for teens and their parents can be a great way to begin the discussion of limitations posed by inexperience and how to safely overcome them. These contracts outline common rules and expectations and ways to assess privileges and responsibilities based on practice and performance. The contracts also address how routine maintenance and expenses can be divided and agreed upon by the parents and teen.

Understanding the law
Fortunately, Minnesota graduated licensing (GDL) and other laws place protective restrictions on teens. These laws are designed to ease teens into independent driving and can help you stay firm in enforcing your own guidelines and give you an answer to the “everyone else can do it” argument.

In Minnesota, the path to licensure is made of three stages: instruction permit, provisional license, and full license. The process begins with 30 hours of classroom education and the knowledge test taken with the state. As teen drivers complete at least six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction with their teacher and another 30 hours of supervised driving (with a parent or guardian), they are allowed an increasing amount of freedom and responsibilities behind the wheel.

In addition, all drivers under age 18 are subject to the provisions of Vanessa's Law and the Not a Drop Law. Enacted in 2004, Vanessa's Law addresses unlicensed teens convicted of crash-related moving violations or alcohol or controlled substance abuse-related violations. If convicted, teenage drivers cannot obtain a license until they are at least 18 years old. At which point, they can begin the process starting with the knowledge test, instruction permit, and the road test. If the teen already holds an instruction permit and is convicted of any of these violations, the permit will be revoked and the teen cannot begin the process over again until age 18. Under the Not a Drop law, anyone younger than 21 who is caught drinking and driving will lose their license for between 30 and 180 days.

While motor vehicle crashes continue to be the number one cause of death for American teens, as a parent you have both a great opportunity and an even bigger obligation to equip your teen as best as possible with the knowledge and experience to be a safe, defensive driver. The biggest threat facing teen drivers is their own inexperience. However, time and patience, as well as a firmly defined set of your family's guidelines and privileges, will set the best possible stage for your new driver.


Lisa Hartley is Coordinator of the Traffic Safety programs at AAA Minneapolis and its Minneapolis Auto Club Foundation for Safety.



Categories: Teens, Children,


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