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How To Teach Your Teen To Drive Safely

May 9, 2008
Teens and automobiles are a dangerous combination. In fact, car crashes are the leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 13 and 19.

About 4,000 teens die each year in passenger vehicle crashes, and hundreds of thousands are seriously injured.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the crash rate per mile driven for 16-19-year-olds is four times the rate for drivers over 19 years of age. Risk is highest at age 16.

For these reasons and more, you need to be sure your teen is adequately prepared to get behind the wheel of an automobile.

Before Turning The First Key

Some states have a graduated licensing program. Even if your state does not, you may wish to follow a similar practice.

Graduated licensing programs include 6-12 months in a learning phase, during which adult supervision is required.

Then there's another 6-12 months in an intermediate licensing phase, during which unsupervised driving isn't allowed in high risk situations, e.g., at night or with other teens in the car.

The National Safety Council sells a video kit, Coaching the Beginning Driver, that contains valuable coaching and defensive driving examples (call 800-621-7619). And AAA has material with teen driving tips (call your local office).

* Although most teens prefer smaller cars, the death and injury rates are lower for occupants of larger cars. Bigger is generally better and high performance cars are not.

* Enroll your teen and yourself in a defensive driving course.

* Have the teen operate the controls while the car is standing still.

Practice, Practice, Practice

While driver's education classes and driving schools are worthwhile, they may not provide the comprehensive car control skills a young driver needs to handle the challenges of today's driving.

Parents can provide that extra time behind the wheel, however. When teaching your teen, start with the basics:
-Only one parent in the car.
-Keep the sessions short, usually no longer than an hour at first.
-Be patient! Keep a constructive, helpful tone. Avoid sarcasm.
-Teach by example. The way you drive while your teen is growing up is far more important than the advice you give.

* Confine early learning to quiet streets and large, open parking lots. Then move onto streets with slow speed limits where there will be minimal contact with other vehicles.

* Practice at night and in inclement weather, too, but not until the teen has learned to handle dry pavement. Large, vacant parking lots are safe places to learn to handle a skid and to cope with the diminished braking capabilities provided by hydroplaning.

* Demonstrate the particulars of an emergency highway stop.

* Only after many hours of practice and demonstrated ability on the part of the young driver, are you ready to move the classroom to more complex situations, e.g., highways, shopping malls and rural roads.

Enforce YOUR Rules For The Road!

The teenage driver also needs to know your rules of the road. Make sure he or she understands that:

* They will always wear a seat belt, as drivers or passengers. According to a recent study, 70 percent of 15-20-year-olds who died in passenger vehicle crashes weren't wearing seat belts.

* Driving should have a purpose.

* There are restrictions on nighttime driving, and no driving between midnight and 6 a.m. Weekend nights are the most hazardous. Give them a curfew.

* Use roads with lower speed limits the first two years. Stay off high-speed highways if poosible.

* Consider a vehicle monitoring device.

* They cannot have more than one friend in the car. Peer pressure leads to risk taking and bad judgments. In one study, 85 percent of teen drivers involved in crashes were accompanied by teen passengers, and the risk increases with each additional teen passenger.

* No alcohol or drugs! This will be difficult to enforce, but it must be stressed time and time again. And if nothing else, get your teen to buy into the "designated driver" concept.

* Some experts recommend that teens not have their own cars during their first two years of driving.

* Set penalties for driving infractions.

* To encourage responsible driving, have your teen pay for part or all of the auto insurance.

* Sign a contract, with rules on using seat belts and the number and ages of passengers. Include consequences for breaking the rules.

* Develop guidelines that minimize distractions. No loud music or talking on the phone.

* Children should never be allowed to ride with inexperienced drivers - regardless of how responsible the drivers are in other areas of their lives. Spell out in advance who the unacceptable drivers are.
About the Author
John Myre is the author of the award-winning book, Live Safely in a Dangerous World, and the publisher of the Safety Times Reproducible Articles..
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