As a parent, the thought of your teen behind the wheel can be scary enough. The statistics about teen driving: even scarier. In 2013, 2,163 teens ages 16 to 19 died in motor vehicle accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s nearly six teenagers every day.
But, there’s good news, too: Graduated driver licensing programs (GDL) have been shown to help reduce injuries and fatalities, according to the CDC, and they’re now in effect in every state. The idea of GDL is to gradually increase a teen’s driving privileges in three increments:
- Learner: After passing a test and earning a learner’s permit, teens can drive with a supervising adult in the car. Some states require 40 or 50 hours of supervised driving time, sometimes in addition to an approved driver’s education course.
- Intermediate: After earning an intermediate driver’s license, teens can drive without supervision but face several restrictions. These can include a limit on the number of passengers in the car and on being on the road at night, depending on the state.
- Fully Licensed: At the specified age and with the specified amount of driving experience under their belts, per state, teens now have the full driving privileges of other licensed drivers.
Fifty hours of supervised driving time may sound like a lot, but you can help make it more productive — and pleasant — with these tips:
- Plan a route and goals for each session in advance. Refer to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s TeenDrivingPlan for guidance.
- Graduate the difficulty of your supervised driving sessions, starting out in an empty parking lot for only a short time and gradually advancing to quiet streets, then intermediate roads, then on to busy streets and highways.
- Rather than giving instructions and general criticisms —“Slow down. You’re going too fast!” — try to ask questions calmly and specifically, such as “What’s the speed limit along here?”
- While you’re in the car, avoid bringing up non-driving subjects: grades, friends, homework.
- Help your teen recognize potential problems before they develop. Call attention to the warning signs that experienced drivers notice and anticipate: children playing on the sidewalk ahead, flashing brake lights, four-way stop intersections.
- Give directions well before your teen needs to take action. “Turn right at the next stop sign,” instead of “Turn here now!”
- Finally, remember to model good driving behavior when you take the wheel.
How can you maintain a positive influence on their driving habits once teens graduate to the intermediate and fully licensed stages and you aren’t sitting beside them in the car? Create a written driving contract or agreement that clearly spells out both responsibilities (“I will not text or talk on my mobile phone while driving”) and consequences for violations (“No driving for two weeks”).
Use these resources to create your own driving agreement with your teen, signed by both you and your new driver:
- The Safeco Parent-Teen Contract includes parental responsibilities, such as providing calm and respectful feedback as a rider, and serving as a responsible role model while driving. There’s also a section to divvy up costs and maintenance responsibilities.
- The Parent-Teen Driving Agreement from the CDC outlines a range of restrictions that gradually decrease with experience. These include how late at night the teen can drive and how many friends can be in the car without an adult present.
Sure, you’ll both be nervous the first time your teen takes the wheel. But, with clear communication and expectations, you can help make the entire process of teaching and allowing your teen to drive easier on everyone.