By Alex Perdikis
You’ve known the fear, the fear that sits deep in your heart. It’s the fear you felt the time 10-year-old Ethan fell out of the tree, broke his arm and you made the mad rush to the emergency room. Or the fear that came when 3-year-old Emma disappeared while you were shopping and you frantically searched everywhere until you found her.
Fear is part of being a parent. But few words are as terrifying as “I want to drive” from your teenager. After all, car accidents are the leading cause of death for the 15-20-year-old age group.
But there are many steps parents can take to help their teen stay safe while driving. Take the time to prepare both yourself and your child for the road ahead.
Before the License
Much of the work with your teen driver comes long before a license is issued. Research your state’s laws governing learning permits and make sure your child follows all the guidelines and rules before being permitted on the road.
Follow these tips to help your child prepare to drive responsibly for life:
- Get the state’s DMV driver’s guide book and study together. Point out important points, laws, restrictions and emergency procedures. As your child moves on to actual driving practice, refer back to the guide book as needed.
- Start With Small Trips to Build Confidence: Short trips on less-traveled roads or even empty parking lots are perfect for new drivers. As your child gains confidence and experience, lengthen the trips and increase the difficulty.
- Provide Lots of Practice Time: Obviously, what teen drivers don’t have is experience. Giving your child lots of practice time with “passenger seat” supervision allows your child to practice and gives you the opportunity to make gentle corrections. As your child becomes more comfortable, allow practices under less than optimal conditions, such as rainy day driving sessions.
- Hold Your Temper: Teaching someone else to drive, particularly your own child, is stressful. Of course, it’s important to offer constructive criticism and helpful tips. But don’t yell or scold. It’s critical to stay calm while you’re in the car with your teen driver, both for obvious safety reasons and to help build their confidence.
Setting the Rules
Some of the rules will be made for you by your state’s graduated licensing. Most states restrict passengers and drive times for teen drivers. Learn your state’s laws and make sure your child complies.
“In addition to state law’s, it’s your job to create an additional list of rules your teenage driver must follow. Your rules should not only include safety rules, but also outline consequences for failure to observe.” — Alex Perdikis
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a parent-teen driving agreement that lists and explains all rules, including mandatory seat belt use, no texting or engaging in other distracted driving behaviors, no alcohol or illegal drugs, assigns responsibilities associated with gas, maintenance and insurance costs, lists restrictions and describes penalties for agreement violations. The agreement is a contract between you and your child and signed by all of you. Download the parent-teen driving agreement from the CDC website.
There is one thing you can do for your teen driver above all else. That one thing? Be not just a good, but a shining example of what a driver should be. Your words are meaningless if you don’t practice what you yourself preach.
Your Teen Driver’s Car
Of course, the question of what vehicle your teen will drive is of utmost concern to both you and your child. Perhaps you have an older car sitting around you’re thinking of letting your child use to drive back and forth to school. Maybe Aunt Grace is selling her car before she moves to Florida. It’s a 1998 Volvo. Volvos are safe, right? But, should you let your inexperienced young driver get behind the wheel of a 30-year old car in disrepair? Probably not the best idea. What should you look for in a car for your teen?
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) offers parents the following suggestions:
- Avoid high horsepower options. Powerful engines might be too tempting for your young driver.
- Look at the bigger, heavier vehicles. The IIHS Highway Loss Data Institute keeps a running analysis of insurance data. Year after year, data indicates that bigger heavier cars are not only safer, but teen drivers are less likely to crash full-size vehicles in the first place.
- Make sure the car you allow your child to use has electronic stability control (ESC). An inexperienced teen driver is likely to overcorrect on curves and slippery surfaces. ESC brings a level of added safety comparable to teen driving comparable to that of wearing seat belts.
- Purchase a car with the highest safety ratings you can afford. Entry level cars now include multiple safety features and some have teen driver features that support safe driving habits.
Does that mean you have to buy a new car? No, in fact, approximately 80 percent of parents purchase a preowned vehicle for their teen. The IIHS maintains a list of both used and new cars that are best suited to meet the challenges teen drivers face.
Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.