Driving with your teen for the first time

The big day arrived this April. My son turned 16 and wanted to register for his learner’s permit. Years ago, I remember joking with other parents about the future. Can you just imagine so-and-so driving? Then we’d all laugh. Now D-Day was here and it didn’t seem quite as funny. The slip of paper with his name on it induced a flashback for me — my mom telling everyone who would listen that I used to go on red and stop on green.

I still took the leap. I drove him to a quiet neighborhood on the way home from the motor vehicle office so he could practice using the brake and accelerator. Except for the whiplash, he did pretty well. The hardest part came later when we ventured onto the main roads. The problem with main roads is that there are things in the way – other cars, confused squirrels, road crews, etc. It’s enough to cause the calmest of parents to have a conniption!

Why worry?

The statistics are alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16–19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.”

Reports by the CDC also conclude that teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous or potentially hazardous situations. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association provides yet another shocking analysis: “Among 15 to 20-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2008, 31 percent of the drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes had been drinking.”

Then, there is the latest hazard: texting while driving.

State laws have changed in response to these statistics. There are new graduated driver licensing laws in New York that require teens to follow a more-strict protocol before a senior license is issued. These laws have a supervised learning period and an intermediate license period before teens can get their full-privilege license. There are also more restrictions for new drivers.

First time out

Some parents say that it is best to have a driving expert teach their teens. However, if you feel up to the challenge, you should keep the following in mind.

Your teen needs to get comfortable with the basics. Take him to a parking lot to practice using the accelerator, brake and steering wheel. Then, gradually take him to roads where he will encounter traffic lights, pedestrian walkways, and higher speed limits.

David Melton, Director of Transportation Consulting Services at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety in Hopkinton, Mass., says, “Our expectations of how our kids drive must be very clear. Put expectations in writing and remind your teens of them regularly.” Melton encourages parents to be good role models. “Your teens will expect you to exhibit the same safe driving behaviors as you require of them.”

Life-long safety behind the wheel

Melton explains, “Just because your teen has obtained his license, doesn’t mean he has the experience he needs to cope with the driving situations he’ll face. Talk to your teen about driving safety, and do it often. We know from years of research that teens who say they have regular conversations with their parents about driving safety are less likely to exhibit destructive behaviors, like speeding and driving under the influence.”

Driving safety should be an ongoing discussion. It’s good for everyone to be reminded of safe driving strategies. Defensive driving courses are for experienced drivers, too, and they lower insurance rates.

Tips and tales

“It’s the braking that freaks us parents out. Once they get a handle on that, you will feel much better about going out on road.”

Kathy Anderson, Poughkeepsie, NY

“I paid for individual driving lessons for my son because I think it is really difficult for a parent to do. I think one really good thing is to give them words of encouragement.”

Linda Witherwax, Hyde Park, NY

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