New drivers need a lot of practice to gain enough experience and confidence to handle daily driving hazards and unexpected situations. (photo from bcaa.com)
According to research, teens value the opinions of their parents most of all (even if it doesn’t always seem like it). That’s why understanding the risks associated with driving and sharing your knowledge are so important during this process. Understanding the risks and facts will help you set rules, consistently enforce those rules and model responsible driving. Your actions make a significant difference.
The information below has been adapted from the American Automobile Association’s Guide to Teen Driver Safety – Keys2Drive, which provides parents an easy way to work with their teens through each step, from choosing a driver education program to deciding when they can drive on their own. There are three main learning-to-drive stages: before your teen starts driving, driving with supervision and driving on their own.
Before your teen starts driving, parents and teens should talk about using seat belts and set rules and consequences related to seat belt use. Establish a seat belt policy that applies to all situations, including buckling up as a driver or passenger, and having all passengers buckle up. It is important that seat belt use becomes so much a habit that it is automatic.
In crashes, seat belts help keep you and your passengers inside the vehicle where you are the safest. In crashes, seat belts keep you from hitting objects or other passengers inside the vehicle. Even if your car is equipped with airbags, seat belts are still needed to prevent serious injury in crashes. Drivers under age 21 are the least likely to wear seat belts and the most likely to crash.
Supervised driving is actually some of the safest driving your teen will do. By teaching under low-risk conditions and then gradually adding new roads and traffic conditions, you help your teen gain experience. Supervised driving will also help you decide when your teen is ready to drive on their own. Even though your teen might be old enough to get a licence, you decide when your teen is ready. Practise – different weather, traffic conditions and road types – use seat belts and make sure your teen knows that distracted driving can be fatal. According to ICBC, using cellphones and texting while driving is the second leading cause of car crash fatalities in British Columbia (81 per year), behind speeding (94) and just ahead of impaired driving (78).
Driver education and training can help your teen learn the rules of the road and how to drive safely. New drivers need a foundation of knowledge, skills and plans to reduce their risk behind the wheel. Quality driver education can help develop safe driving attitudes, hazard recognition, vehicle positioning and speed adjustment and visual search habits. Using a professional driver education school can be an effective way to provide your teen with the training needed. It can also help build your relationship with your teen. Some very skilled and safety-conscious parents may not have the time or temperament to be the best teacher.
Safe driving requires concentration, knowledge and judgment – much more than just being able to manoeuvre the vehicle. New drivers need a lot of practice to gain enough experience and confidence to handle daily driving hazards and unexpected situations. Teens will show the greatest improvement in the first 1,600 to 8,000 kilometres of driving. However, they will continue to show noticeable improvement for up to 32,000 kilometres.
First, teens need to become familiar with the vehicle, then to practise basic driving skills such as turning, parking and backing up. At first, practise away from traffic in low-speed areas like parking lots and neighborhood streets. In the beginning, always practise in daylight and good weather. Once you are sure your teen understands the basics, practise more complex skills such as changing lanes. As your teen’s skills increase, gradually add more complex and difficult situations such as larger roads, higher speed limits, heavier traffic and night driving. Always set goals prior to each driving lesson.
Only practise when you are both ready, are in good moods and have sufficient time. Practice sessions should be long enough to accomplish the goals, but short enough to avoid fatigue, loss of concentration and frustration. Practise as often as possible so that your teen can accumulate driving skills.
Driving on their own – the AAA has created a template for a parent-teen driving agreement with the goal of reducing the risks. It is comprised of checkpoints. Discuss and assign unsupervised driving privileges for each stage, with the privileges increasing with each checkpoint; for example, initially, your teen can only drive to 9 p.m. with no teen passengers and only in dry weather on neighborhood roads, but, by Checkpoint 4, they have few, if any restrictions. Decide how long each checkpoint’s privileges should remain in effect and, based on the length of time on which you agree, write in the date to review your teen’s progress. Discuss each rule, what might comprise a violation of that rule and the consequences of a violation, including the loss of driving privileges. On the review date, consider moving to the next checkpoint if your teen passes the “quick check”:
• Have enough supervised driving practice?
• Advance in driving skills and judgment?
• Obey traffic laws? (never use alcohol or other drugs and drive, never ride with a person who is driving after using alcohol or other drugs, never ride in a car where any alcohol or drug use is occurring, always wear your seat belt at all times as a driver or passenger, always have every passenger wear a seat belt, do not drive aggressively – e.g., speeding, tailgating or cutting others off)
• Take no unnecessary risks? (no playing around with passengers, messing around with the radio, talking on a cellphone, etc.; do not drive when overly tired, angry or upset; do not put yourself or others at increased risk by making unnecessary trips in adverse weather)
• “Check in” with parent before each driving event? (examples include a teen telling their parent where they are going, who their passengers will be, calling if they are going to be more than 30 minutes late or if their plans change, and calling if they cannot get home safely because of weather conditions, alcohol use or other reasons so a parent can arrange a safe ride)
• Rarely lose driving privileges?
If your teen’s progress is not satisfactory, set another review date for the current checkpoint. If your teen’s progress is satisfactory, move to the next checkpoint and decide on a review date. Continue until you have completed all the checkpoints.
Distracted drivers are dangerous drivers, and teenage drivers are more easily distracted than older drivers. Also, because of their inexperience, they don’t react as well when they suddenly perceive a danger. Every day, car crashes end more teen lives than cancer, homicide and suicide combined, and many of these teens are killed as passengers of other teen drivers. Based on kilometres driven, teens are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers.
As a parent, you can help reduce the risks to your teen. You can set clear expectations and rules about safe driving and minimizing distractions – and you can model safe and respectful driving, including making family rules by which everyone abides.