It's one of the few rites of passage in the American culture. A time of exhilaration for teens, a mixture of relief and dread for parents. And no matter how intense the anticipation or anxiety, it is an inevitable step for both parents and teens - teen driving.
While many teenagers can't wait to sit behind a steering wheel signifying more independence, many parents try to delay handing the car keys to their son or daughter. This step is fraught with emotions and can quickly become a less than positive experience for both parents and teens.
While nothing will solve all the issues or salve all the emotions related to teen driving, some common sense approaches by parents can help assure their children's safe transition through this period. Whether your children are toddlers or teens, consider the following ideas:
- Decide on your approach to teen driving and talk about it with your children long before they reach permit age. This enables parents to set the limits without the pressure of having to make quick decisions, and the children to know what their limits will be once they begin to drive.
- Model good driving habits daily. Children, young and old, imitate their parents' behavior-good and bad.
- Try not to tie the driving permit stage to reward or punishment. A driving permit is for the purpose of training and learning what will help teens become better drivers. Restricting that time, or cutting it short, as punishment may get your child's attention, but it will also cut short his or her opportunity to learn safe driving habits with another adult-usually you-sitting beside them.
- Pay attention to studies that offer guidance for teen driving limits. Research shows that the following factors are keys to teen road safety:
- Driving at night puts inexperienced drivers at risk. Teen accident rates increase after 10 p.m., and even more dramatically after midnight.
- The more passengers in the car, the greater the risks for the young driver. The likelihood of a 16-year-old carrying one passenger being killed because of an accident are 39 percent higher than those driving alone; 86 percent higher for those carrying two passengers and 282 percent greater for those with three or more passengers. Results were similar for 17-year-old drivers.
- Younger drivers are more likely than more mature drivers to drive when drowsy.
- Learn the laws in your state, but beyond that base the limits you set on your teen's driving on expert advice and common sense, not what other parents are doing.
- More than 20 states have enacted a graduated licensing system that begins with a learner's permit at age 16, through a provisional permit and license with restrictions, to an unrestricted license at age 18 based on the youth's meeting all the test, supervised driving, and other requirements.
- At least 10 states restrict the number or age of passengers who can ride with new teen drivers.
- At least 28 states have driving curfews, most beginning at midnight, although New York imposes a 9 p.m. curfew on drivers under age 18.
- Underage drinking is a problem common to all areas of the country, as is substance abuse. Explain as often as necessary how your zero tolerance plan works. There is no such thing as a teenage "designated driver." Not only should your teen not get near alcohol, but neither should anyone who rides in their car.
Parents who take the time to thoughtfully prepare for this important stage of their children's lives, will help ensure that their young people not only understand the rules of the road, but they are also ready for the road.