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What Parents Need to Know About Teen Driving Safety

Getting a driver’s license and hitting the road is an important rite of passage for many teenagers, which signals that they are becoming adults. It also comes with significant responsibility and serious risks.

Many parents know firsthand that the teenage mind can be a strange and confounding place. Teen decision-making can be driven by a number of different factors and unfortunately, logic is not always one of them.

For parents with kids who are studying for a learner’s permit, preparing to get a driver’s license or are already driving, it is important to teach your child how to be safe behind the wheel. Not just for your teenager’s sake, but also for the safety of other drivers, passengers, cyclists, pedestrians and anyone else out on the open road.

The Parking Lot Is Your Friend

Most people do not learn to ski by simply strapping on a pair, catching a lift to the top of a mountain and taking off down the highest slope. Practice not only makes perfect, but it can also prevent serious car accidents and life-changing injuries.

For new drivers, that means getting acquainted with large and mostly empty parking lots. A teen’s first time behind the wheel should come in at least three separate 45-minute sessions driving around these spaces.

This allows the novice driver to work out some nervousness, get comfortable with the vehicle and practice the basics. It also allows them to make mistakes with little or no risk of damaging the vehicle or injuring anyone in it.

It is hard for some of us to remember that many of the driving skills that now come as second nature had to be learned. A parking lot is the perfect low-pressure venue to work on these and other skills:

  • Starting the car and bringing a moving vehicle to a comfortable (not abrupt, jerking or wheel screeching) stop.
  • Driving (and staying) on the right side of the road.
  • Making right and left turns with precision and staying on the correct side.
  • Using side view mirrors.
  • Pulling in and out of parking spaces.

Once your new driver has proved proficient at these skills, he or she is ready to move onto public roads. It is a good idea to start easy, with wide roads in lower-speed zones, and build gradually to more complicated driving situations.

Say It Out Loud: “New Driver”

Unless you are living in a remote corner of the world, driving eventually means negotiating traffic. The thing is, motorists generally have no idea what is going on inside the vehicles around them. They likely are not aware, for example, if another driver is drunk, drugged, drowsy or distracted until it is too late.

It is vital to let others on the road know when an inexperienced driver is behind the wheel. That is where the “new driver” magnet or sticker comes in. This alerts everyone in traffic to the fact that the person behind the wheel is still learning.

Drivers who are aware that they are sharing the road with someone new are more likely to exercise caution, slow down, give the new driver more space and use signals well in advance. They are also much more willing to have patience if and when mistakes are made.

It Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

When a teen driver successfully navigates his or her first local trip to the grocery store or movie theater, it is an accomplishment that should be celebrated. It is not, however, a sign that he or she is necessarily ready to hit a busy highway or navigate rush hour traffic. 

The key to successful driver training is building skills gradually. Those skills should be divided into sets, with the new driver repeating practice for at least two hours over the course of multiple sessions. 

The practice sessions should proceed slowly from the most basic to the more complicated, with plenty of room for repetition.

  • Local neighborhoods and back roads: Keeping the vehicle on the right side, making turns with and without stop signs, understanding right of way.
  • Low-speed main roads: Changing lanes, responding to signs and signals, right of way in intersections, right on red.
  • High-speed main roads: Lane changing, merging, defensive driving, U-turns, traffic circles.
  • Highways: Using the entrance ramp and merging onto the highway, changing lanes, proper lane use, exiting highways.
  • City, town, urban settings: Understanding common street signs and situations, parallel parking.

Repetition is important. New drivers should take their time to learn and master these skills before moving up levels of complexity.

About Passenger Seat Driving

New drivers are not the only ones who need training. Parents teaching teenagers how to drive for the first time can also use a few pointers. 

It starts with letting go of at least some control. Many parents feel the irresistible and completely understandable urge to direct teen drivers’ every move, shriek at mistakes in open parking lots or even try to take the wheel. That kind of micromanagement is not safe for you, the driver or anyone else on the road.

Instead, take the time to build the necessary skills through practice and repetition with your new driver. That will give both of you more confidence and alleviate at least some of the stress and fear that can come with moving through the phases of new driver training.

Do as I Do

When it comes to teaching good behavior behind the wheel, nothing beats modeling good behavior behind the wheel. When your teen starts thinking about being able to drive, he or she will start paying closer attention to how you drive. 

Be as alert, patient and responsible a driver as you want your child to be. It might even help you learn a thing or two.

Remember, learning to drive is a big step toward becoming an adult. That means you have to treat the new driver as an adult. 

For more information, check out the infographic below: