How to Establish Teen Driving Rules
To be eighteen and independent is the dream of every teenager. To receive the keys to a car is the final rite of passage into adulthood. Having a driver’s licence is the ultimate status symbol for a teenager, and the desire to flaunt their newfound independence and skill is the biggest threat facing these new drivers. Not all teenagers mature at the same pace and age – some are ready to assume responsibilities, while others are not quite ready. It then becomes the difficult, but important task of the parents to establish the rules of safe driving with their teenagers, as their safety and those of the other road drivers rest on them.
Some teenage driving statistics
For parents, handing over the keys of a vehicle to their teenager could mean handing over the reins of control. It is not enough to bestow a car upon your teenager or hand over the keys – it is more important to prepare your teenager adequately for such a responsibility. Statistics show that traffic accidents are the No. 1 cause of death and injury for teenagers in the age group 15-19. According to American Automobile Association (AAA), teenage drivers account for only 7% of the driving population, but 14% of all fatal crashes involving teenagers. In 2006 alone, 4,800 teens died in motor vehicle collisions. These statistics attach greater significance to your job of establishing safe driving rules with your teenager.
Driving safely - Help your teen driver
You need to explain to your teenager that having a driver’s license may be one of the biggest privileges, and with that comes a huge responsibility for their life and the lives of others who take to the road.
Having a driver’s license does not mean that he/she is an expert driver - practice makes perfect. You need to encourage your teenager to achieve driving competence by driving short distances under supervision. Logging in more than the required number of driving hours could help increase their confidence and improve their driving skills.
A major number of the accidents involving teenagers happen between 9 p.m. and midnight. The per mile crash rate for teenage drivers is three times higher after 9 p.m. than during the day. It is important to explain to your teenager with statistics why you would like to restrict their nighttime driving. You could ensure compliance if you take the time to explain how sleep deprivation and fatigue works on their body.
Sleep deprivation is a major cause of accidents. It affects vision, hand-eye coordination, judgement of hazards and response time. It also causes your temper to flare up without much provocation.
Restrict your teenager from driving in poor weather conditions. Fogs, thunderstorms, snow etc., may not be the right conditions to drive for a new and inexperienced driver.
Teen parties often involve alcohol or drugs. You need to educate your teenager about the risks of consuming alcohol and driving. You could explain how alcohol helps you feel good about yourself and capable of doing anything while in reality it impairs your judgment and lowers your reaction time. It has to be clearly specified to your teenager that underage drinking is an offense and he/she would have to face the consequences of breaking the law.
Let your teenager know that he/she should call you if they have had a drink, or if their friends were drunk, and that you would be willing to help. They need to know that your concern is for their welfare and is not aimed at controlling him/her.
Ground rules for teen drivers safety
Instruct your teenager to put away cell phones, and avoid loud music, earphones or any other distractions while driving the car. These may be banned in some jurisdictions, especially during the first year as an independent driver.
Risk-taking behavior in the teen years is high. Teenagers are greatly thrilled by speed and could indulge in ignoring traffic signs, signals and other rules to be able to drive faster. This behaviour has a tendency to become more pronounced when they drive with peers. The need to appear ‘cool’ may also increase risk taking behavior when teenagers date and drive their partners around in their vehicles. Studies have shown that the risk increases with the increase in the number of teenage passengers in the vehicle. A list of things to be done could be kept in a log book – this would help your teenager comply. For example: wear your seat belt, ensure that passengers in the car are buckled up as well etc..
In the first year of driving, it is important to restrict your teenager from driving his peers around, especially if they are inebriated, belligerent, and show poor regard for the rules of the road.
Teaching your teenager to obey the rules of the road, following the speed limits and respecting traffic laws and extending courtesy towards other road users is crucial.
Insist that seat belts be worn at all times not only by the driver but by all the passengers in the car. Help your teenager appreciate that they can have no more than four passengers in the car at one time. The passengers in the car should never exceed the number of seat belts.
As a parent it would be your duty to ensure that your teenager’s vehicle is sturdy. Vans, SUV’s and larger vehicles take impacts better than small cars. Sports cars encourage your teenager to take bigger risks. You should also consider safety measures such as front and side air bags, shoulder straps, head rests, padded dashes, collapsible steering columns, anti-lock brakes, safety glass, etc. These could help you get a good rate for your teenagers auto insurance.
Enroll your teenager in a driving school where he/she could get professional instructions from well-trained instructors. This would be your biggest gift to your teenager, before handing over the keys.
Those teen drivers with consistently good grades at school are eligible for a discount on auto insurance, as they are considered more likely to be responsible individuals. This could be the biggest motivator for your teen to get good grades.
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Parenting advise to help your teenager become a safe driver
Studies show that parents of teenagers who have had accidents, tend to be poor drivers themselves. Studies point out that these parents have a higher incidence of traffic violations than parents of teenagers who maintain safe driving habits.
Set the standards by being a safe driver: Your teenager is watching you while you drive. Your adherence to speed limits, traffic signals, control over your emotions, your interaction with other road users etc., has great impact on your teenager. Do not text or use your mobile phone while driving. These are bad precedents. You teenager often imitates the behaviours he/she sees.
Follow traffic rules. Road rages, or being discourteous to other road users could trigger a more violent reaction in your teen who is trying to exert his/her newfound independence.
Remain calm while driving. Give directions in a calm and unemotional manner when you supervise your teenager’s driving. Expect mistakes, be proactive, anticipate hazards and be ready to take over at any time. Criticism and negative comments only help to increase your teenager’s anxiety and lack of confidence, causing him/her to make fatal mistakes.
Teach your teenager to stay focused. Distractions of any kind should be avoided. Encourage your teenager to keep his/her car clutter free, and his/her mind on the road..
Explain to them why you are making certain moves or reacting in a particular way. Your experience could become a great lesson for your teenager, to perceive hazards and react accordingly. Teaching teens to anticipate mistakes of other drivers and drive defensively would be a great help.
Resources you could use
Some statistics and information http://dmv.ca.gov/teenweb/more_btn6/traffic/traffic.htm
Contract form for teenagers www.teendriving.com
More Resources http://teendriving.aaa.com/map/
Sign a driving contract with your teenager
Many contract forms are available on the internet. Your contract should mention obedience to traffic laws and following safe driving practices. Restrictions on time and the number of passengers should be clearly stated. Use of alcohol or drugs should lead to revoking of driving privileges. The responsibility to inform parents about their whereabouts and coming home late should be emphasized to the teenager.
Use of cell phones should be prohibited while driving. Your contract should be clear on when privileges will be revoked and who needs to pay the tickets for the breaking of laws.
Ensure that all these rules are strictly enforced. Be consistent with enforcement of these rules and stick to the contract. This will make your teenager realize that you care strongly about his/her safety and mean what you say.
Take every opportunity to review or discuss safe driving. All your actions should help build your teenager’s confidence, but at the same time he/she should know that you mean business.
Remember that all teenagers are not ready to assume such a great responsibility at the same age. Teenagers mature and develop a sense of responsibility at different ages. It is okay to revoke privileges until your teen is ready to assume responsibility. AAA offers a training program (available on video or CD-ROM) "Teaching Your Teens to Drive: A Partnership for Survival". This could help your teenager greatly.
Understand that while revoking teen privileges you are not punishing your teenager, but helping them become more responsible. You are removing a threat from the road and ensuring the safety of your teenager and other road users.
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