The Most Dangerous Road Hazard :: Your Teen Driver

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Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels“Novice teen drivers are twice as likely as adult drivers to be in a fatal crash. Despite a 46-percent decline in driver fatalities of 15- to 18-year-olds between 2007 and 2016, teens are still significantly over-represented in fatal crashes.” U.S. Department of Transportation

Capable Drivers Wanted

My dad is a car guy. He loves driving and is a master of driving skills. So you can imagine his desire to impart all of that wisdom on his children, hoping to create capable and highly skilled drivers. As the oldest, I was the first to experience “Dad’s Driving School”. It went something like this: “What are you doing to my transmission?” {muttering under the breath} “It’s simple: clutch, gas, ease off clutch, clutch, shift gears.” {expletive under the breath} “How hard is it to find first gear?” {EXPLETIVE}

I quit Dad’s Driving School early in my training. One day, at a three-way stop, after enduring multiple attempts to find first gear and much muttering, I burst into tears and said I never wanted to drive with him again. That put me in the Mom Driving School, which went something like this: “Eeessh. {clutching door}” “Slow down, slow down, SLOW DOWN. {pressing foot repeatedly onto the phantom brake on the passenger side}” “You’re too close the curb, too close, EEESH. {clutching door}”

Like my dad, we all believe we can create capable drivers, but the truth is that we are not really excelling at doing so. In a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, our teens are likely to not only be victims of car crashes – they are likely to be causes. While this may make you want to take the keys and hide the car, you do have the ability to create capable drivers who will be less likely to have or to cause accidents.

Capable Guidance Needed

When it was my turn to teach my children to drive, I remembered how it felt to be learning and how my parents responded to the challenge. Even in the 10 years since my children learned to drive, much has changed and improved to keep your teen drivers safer and more protected on the road. So before you hop into the passenger seat and say a little prayer (and press that imaginary brake pedal), here are a few tips and reminders that may help you:

  1. Model the behavior you want to see. Drive the way you want your teen to drive. In case you’re wondering what that means, you can listen to what these teens had to say or you can follow a few common sense practices. No texting or email while driving. No tailgating. No speeding. No road rage.
  2. Set the limitations and stick to them. One option is to create and sign a driver agreement. I wish I would have used this type of agreement with my own children, rather than flying by the seat of my pants every time another issue or incident arose. Especially as a single mom, when you need all the tools you can get, I would have been helped to have a document that reminded me what I had agreed – or not agreed – to.
  3. Understand the graduated license requirements in your state. In Alabama, we have three stages: learner, intermediate, and full privilege. A learner, minimum age 15, must complete 50 hours driving or driver’s education and have a minimum of six months driving before they can achieve intermediate stage. At that time, your driver must be at least 16 and is restricted to one passenger and no driving between midnight and 6:00 a.m. Full driving privileges are earned at age 17.
  4. Understand your insurance and prepare for an accident. All three of our children managed to bang up our car or bang into someone else’s. You can prepare by making sure you get every discount your insurance offers (State Farm, which is my insurer, provides accident-free and good grade discounts, for example). I would also suggest that you make that first car a clunker that will likely endure some damage – I promise, you will thank me when you go to pay for repairs and increased insurance premiums.

A Legacy of Capable Driving

My dad has endured many years of teasing for his less-than-helpful lessons in driving, but in all honesty, my dad truly created capable drivers. Not only do I understand how to drive a standard transmission, I also understood how to manage my speed on the interstate without hitting the brakes every 30 seconds, how to pass safely on that two-lane highway, how to accelerate into the curve and beat the guys in go-kart racing. But that’s a story for another day.

Each October, the National Teen Driver Safety Week (October 21-27, 2018) seeks to bring attention to keeping our teen drivers, and all of us, safer on the roads. You can learn much more, including how to mitigate big risk factors like underage drinking and driving, at www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov/get-materials/teen-safety.

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Born in Wisconsin, Chris moved South with her family, first to Richmond, Virginia, and then to Birmingham when she was 12. She loves being a girl raised in the South, and her only remaining Midwestern traits are a love for the Packers and a fondness for bratwurst. In 2010, Chris reconnected with Christopher, a former Birmingham-Southern College classmate, after a random meeting in the cereal aisle at Publix. They married in 2011, not realizing that they were bringing together a perfect storm of teenage angst with their three children. Today, Chris is the center support that keeps the seesaw of her family balanced, leading a blended family of three young adults and enjoying an empty nest. Before the pandemic, most days were busy managing client relationships for a corporate event production company, but after six months of unemployment, she has become the parish administrator aka “the church lady” for her church. When she's not working, she loves reading a rich historical novel, volunteering with her sorority, and planning their next wine-tasting excursions.