Parents dread the day their teenage child nears driving age. They may be relieved to learn that graduated driver licensing laws (GDLs) are likely helping to train a generation of better, safer drivers. But it only works with the help of parents.
Those GDLs consist of learner stage, intermediate stage, and full privilege stage. Thirty-five states plus the District of Columbia require six months of supervised driving (learner stage); three states (Illinois, Maryland and Virginia) require nine months; nine states (Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota and Vermont) require 12 months; Connecticut demands four months; Wyoming 10 days; and New Hampshire, none.
Required supervised driving hours range from 30 hours to 70 hours (100 hours without driver’s ed in Oregon), although four states (Alabama, Arizona, Nebraska and West Virginia) require none with driver’s ed. Arkansas, Mississippi, New Jersey, and South Dakota don’t require any.
The key to how well teens absorb and practice safe driving behavior, according to many researchers, is parental involvement in their child’s overall driving learning experience. This starts when parents and teens have the first discussion about driving--and should continue up to and even after the teen obtains a driver’s license.
That’s because teens lack experience in many potentially dangerous driving situations and also are not aware – until they are taught and reminded – how risky certain distracted driving behaviors are, such as texting, using a cell phone, eating, applying makeup, changing radio stations or CD’s, and even talking with others in the vehicle.
While some parents may roll their eyes at too much involvement, figuring that once the teen gets a license, that’s all the time mom and dad need to spend in the car with their newly-licensed driver, the facts bear out a slightly different truth. The first few months after a teen gets a driver’s license are when they’re most at risk for getting into an accident. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, teens have the highest crash rate of any group in the United States.
It takes time for teens to become practiced safe drivers. And the more they practice with parental supervision, and the more they observe good role modeling behavior by parents behind the wheel, the safer teens themselves are likely to drive.
What your teen needs to learn
The AAA Keys2Drive Guide to Teen Driver Safety outlines several areas teens need considerable practice when first learning how to drive. These include:
- Learning the rules of the road
- How to control the vehicle
- Anticipating dangers and driving defensively
- What it means to be a safe and courteous driver
- What is needed to pass a driver’s test
Besides learning how to operate a vehicle, teens need to learn visual scanning, hazard perception, judgment and good decision-making skills. These are complex, higher-order perceptual and cognitive skills required to safely negotiate traffic.
Be aware that teens learn how to operate a vehicle safely within a short period of time, but tend to become overconfident a few months into the learner stage. At this time, they may start to drive too fast, leaving shorter following distances and other risky driving behavior. Such overconfidence has also been reported in research of teens a few months after they begin driving unsupervised.
Parental involvement shouldn’t be a once in a while activity. To ensure your teen is getting the most out of your knowledge and experience as a safe driver, you need to be willing to set aside several hours each week to devote to practice driving with your teen. This needs to add up to about 100 hours of practice driving before your teen is allowed to drive alone.
As a parent, you need to be committed to providing coaching for your teen in various driving conditions, in inclement weather, during different times of the day. Safety experts recommend starting off in low-risk situations, such as daylight hours, dry pavement, little or no traffic, and later moving to more complex and higher-risk situations, such as rain, heavy traffic, highway travel, and other common driving encounters.
Patience is more than just a virtue when it comes to parents riding with teens behind the wheel. It’s absolutely critical. Your teen won’t learn as much if you are hypercritical of everything he does or use a loud voice to voice criticism. It may be infuriating to watch your teen drive too slow or fail to pay attention to speed limits, but curb the urge to yell. Take a deep breath and calmly and patiently discuss the different driving choices your teen makes. It’s also a good idea to take a time out if things get a little too heated.
Finally, don’t forget that alternating times behind the wheel with your teen provides an excellent opportunity for you to demonstrate good driving behavior – behavior your teen will pick up on. Always wear seat belts and make sure everyone in the vehicle is buckled up as well. Don’t use your cell phone while driving to make or receive calls or texts. Obey all speed limits and traffic signals. Keep your eyes on the road and your attention focused on driving.
Remember, driving with a parent is a safe environment for teens to get good driving experience during and after the learner’s permit stage of GDLs.