by Adam Guss
A little over a year ago, I faced that inevitable reality that just about every parent faces. My son turned 16 and got his driver’s license. When I got my license in the mid 80’s, there were a lot of distractions, but there are far more distractions today than ever before. And today’s distractions are much more… well, “distracting.” With this in mind, here are some important tips for parents with newly licensed drivers.
1) Lead by example. As a parent, one of hardest but most important rules to teach your teenager is to “practice what you preach.” If you don’t want your teen eating while driving, talking on their cell phone or even worse, texting, don’t do those things when he or she is riding with you – doing so sends a strong message that it’s acceptable.Always buckle your seat belt before you start the car, obey speed limits, don’t tailgate and never get angry at another driver. We could all benefit from slowing down and being a bit more courteous to our fellow drivers. What better time to do that than when your impressionable teen is in the car with you?
2) Practice. A Lot. The single most important thing you can do to help your teen stay safe on the road is to allow as much supervised practice behind the wheel as possible. The provisional license period is intended to be a time where we teach our kids to drive, and drive safely. Make sure to take full advantage to this.
3) Be encouraging. Pay attention to the good and bad things your teen does while driving and give them plenty of positive encouragement. Nothing will make your child more nervous than if you only point out their mistakes.
4) Keep it interesting. Varying the routes, time of day and driving conditions will ensure that your teen driver gains confidence in a wide range of driving situations. Taking the same route every day will only give limited opportunity to learn.
5) Gradually introduce new privileges. Once young drivers receive their license, it may be tempting to let them drive where they want, when they want, and with whomever they want. But research shows that night driving, driving with passengers, and driving without a destination are all factors that contribute to high crash rates. Remember to set ground rules before your teen driver is licensed.
6) No passengers for the first 12 months. Technically, California Law requires a licensed parent, guardian or person over the age of 25 to be in the car when a newly licensed driver transports anyone under the age of 20, until the driver has been licensed for one full year. Why? Well, research shows that a teen’s risk of being involved in a crash increases exponentially with each peer passenger in the car. When he or she has been licensed for 12 full months and is ready to drive with passengers, start by allowing only one person and gradually increase the number of teen passengers allowed in the car. Stress to your teen that it’s okay to tell passengers, “Please don’t distract me while I’m driving.”
7) Daytime driving for at least 6 months. The law also prohibits newly licensed drivers from driving from 11pm–5am for their first year. But let’s take that a step further. A teen’s crash risk increases at night, even before 11pm. For the first six months, limit your teen to daytime driving whenever possible. Gradually allow later driving.
8) Delay giving them a car. It’s not recommended that teen drivers be immediately given a car of their own. For the first year or so, share the family car (a later-model, mid-sized to large sedan is safest). This allows you to control access to the vehicle. It’s so much easier to say “Sorry, I need to have the car here tonight,” than it is to say “I don’t want you taking YOUR car anywhere tonight.” It also makes it easier to agree on conditions of use (wearing a seat belt, no passengers, no cell phone, responsibility for gas and repairs, etc.).
9) Teach your teen to “scan” for hazards. One of the most common problems young drivers have is scanning their surroundings for potential hazards. The tendency is to look only as far as the car in front of them, in effect “blinding” them to road conditions further ahead, and reducing their space to react to hazards. During your supervised driving practice, remind the driver to keep an eye on the traffic several cars ahead and to the sides, looking for brake lights, traffic signals, pedestrians, emergency vehicles and one area that I find to be completely ignored by most drivers: cars coming from the left and right as you go through an intersection. We’ve all seen other drivers run red lights.
We need to take advantage of this time with our kids and not just teach them to drive, but train them to be great drivers. Every day, there are more and more new drivers on our roads and that won’t be changing anytime soon. The better we prepare are teens, the safer we will all be over the coming years.
Adam Guss is owner of the State Farm, Adam Guss Agency in Orange. Find out more by visiting adamguss.com.
Information for this article based on research conducted by State Farm and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.