Is your teen ready to drive?
By Randy Cale, PH.D
Many parents get very anxious at the thought of their teenager driving, and they should be.
According to AAA, 15 to 17-year old drivers were involved in nearly a million crashes in 2006, injuring 406,427 people and killing 2,541. We know this is really the first time that our teens have the opportunity to put themselves and others at serious risk.
As parents, we need to ensure a high level of responsibility when our kids get behind the wheel of a car. So it’s up to you to decide if your teenager is ready for the road. It’s not about being old enough legally. It’s about whether your teenager develops the skills necessary to drive safely, and whether you can trust your teenager to use good judgment.
Integrity: When trying to determine whether your teenager is ready to get a driver’s license, consider whether they show integrity in their relationship with you. Do they honor their word to you? Can you be certain that they are truthful and honest or do they try to deceive you?
When they inform you of where they are going and who will be in the car, can you trust that? Do they generally use good judgment when you are not around? If so, great; if not, this is the first place to pause. Integrity is hard to teach if your teenager doesn’t have it by now.
Responsibility: How do they handle other responsibilities? Teens often want the benefits of hard work and responsibility without putting forth any of the effort. So, ask yourself these questions:
• Do they complete their homework and hand it in on time?
• Do they do their household chores without prompting?
• Do they help out when you need a hand around the house and take some independent initiative to do their work?
If so, you are likely in good shape and can feel comfortable about their time behind the wheel when you are not around.
Basic skills: If your teenager demonstrates they are responsible and trustworthy, the next step is to enroll them in a driver’s education course. If there is a cost associated with the course, make certain that your teen contributes to it. They are more inclined to take the course seriously and do well in it if they have to pay for part of it.
Let’s be clear however: This is really driving 101. It’s a very basic level of skill development and more practice is needed.
Practice makes perfect: Once your teenager has successfully completed a driver’s education course, they are ready to apply for a learner’s permit. However, they are not ready to drive independently. There are many different road conditions and other variables that can affect your teenager’s ability to drive safely and confidently. That’s why it’s important for teenagers to practice driving throughout the four seasons or for one year. Teach them how to handle snow, wet roads, and various traffic conditions, but do so in small increments. During this year, your teenager will be able to increase their driving skills, improve reflexes and become more confident behind the wheel.
Check. Check. Check. Be vigilant for skill development throughout the learner’s period. Notice how they handle various conditions and be gentle in reminding them of basic safe habits. In fact, have them pull over to deliver feedback. If they are resistant to your feedback, simply remove them from the driver’s seat. They will become more receptive with time if you use this approach.
Almost there: If you are pleased with your teenager’s driving progress over the course of a year, and they have maintained good grades, a positive attitude and continued to display good judgment, then allow your son or daughter to take the road test and get a driver’s license. However, just because your teenager has a driver’s license, does not mean they should have immediate access to the car keys at all times. And, they need to practice driving alone in the car before having friends join them. After about 20 solo drives, allow your teenager to only drive with a couple friends so they don’t get overwhelmed and distracted.
Finally, if you ever hear of moments when your teen has violated your clear conditions for safe driving, do not hesitate to remove their license for a while. Lectures will likely have little impact, whereas immediate loss of driving privileges will restore their attention to your guidelines.
Driving is a privilege, not a right, so I encourage you to make sure your teenager is ready for the responsibility before handing them the keys to the car. Most are ready for this, and some are not. If you have questions about their skill or judgment, I vote for caution as it will ultimately serve your family and mine.
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. Dr. Cale’s new website, www.TerrificParenting.com offers valuable free parenting information and an e-mail newsletter.