The following is an excerpt from Safe Young Drivers November, 1996 edition.
MANY PARENTS REMAIN SHOCKINGLY CLUELESS about the magnitude of the risk for teen drivers. They give in much too easily to pressure from teens to obtain a driver’s license on or near their 16th birthday. Likewise, many allow their kids to breeze through the perfunctory steps that pass for driving instruction in this country, then blithely hand over the keys to the family vehicle, or buy one for their young driver right away—often something flashy, top-heavy or too powerful.
What is so puzzling is how strongly this situation counters typical parental behavior for the first 16 years of a child’s life. During that time parents eagerly spring for all kinds of instruction: piano lessons, dancing lessons, skating lessons and so forth. They cart the kids endlessly back and forth to such sessions, spending hundreds of hours and lots of money. No parent would pay for only six piano lessons and then expect a child to perform at a concert. And no parent would send a child to six swimming lessons then demand a championship athletic performance. So why is it, when it counts the most—when it becomes a matter of life and death—that so many parents shrink from their responsibility to instruct, supervise and protect their children?
Why do they settle for only six hours of driver training behind the wheel? Most states have at least imposed graduated licensing programs, which strengthen some of the requirements for beginning drivers—and have resulted in decreased fatality rates—but those laws go only so far. Given the situation and the dangers, responsible parents have no choice. They must do for their beginning drivers what they have done during earlier phases of their children’s development. They must assume responsibility to supervise a safe and complete driving instruction program. First, take control All states grant parents authority to decide whether their minor child should obtain a learner’s permit and a license. If a parent thinks a teen is not yet ready, then that parent need do nothing—granting a permit or a license is what requires action, in the form of a signature. In 10 years of writing and speaking about this subject, this has never ceased to amaze me.
When parents express concerns about prospective drivers, and I advise them to hold off the instruction until they are confident their kid is ready, many look stunned—as though they had never even considered refusing to cave in to pressures for the permit and the license. Take the time Safety experts agree good basic driving skills require at least 100 hours of supervised instruction behind the wheel. That means gradually exposing kids to as many of the potential conditions they will face on the road as possible. For both of your sakes, begin in a place of safety, such as an empty parking lot, and move carefully from there into conditions of increasing complexity—but only after the teen has mastered each new skill and challenge.
Don’t hurry There is no specific age at which he or she must begin driving. Forget about your own inconvenience and concentrate on teaching. If at any time you feel a sense of inattention, resistance or rebellion, become the parent again. Say something like: “I’m sorry, but you’re not taking this as seriously as I would have hoped, so we’re going to suspend the lessons until you start showing a better attitude.” Likewise, don’t quit early Even after your teen is licensed, instruction should continue. Lay down sensible limits, such as no passengers for the first six months, curfews, and absolutely no drinking or drugs. Make it a point, whenever you and your teen travel together, to require him or her to drive. It’s a good way to continue to sharpen skills and detect bad habits. And remember that until your child reaches age 18, you still have the authority to suspend or revoke driving privileges.
Last, enjoy this This approach is not punitive—it’s loving and caring. It conveys how much you desire to see your child receive the best training possible, just as you have all along. And it’s a great time to reacquaint yourself with your offspring. Isn’t this worth at least as much as piano lessons?
Phil Berardelli is the author of Safe Young Drivers: A Guide for Parents and Teens,
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