According to Dr. Bill Van Tassel, AAA manager of Driver Training Operations, the reality is teaching responsible driving comes at a much earlier age than you think.
"Be a good role model," he says. "Teens don't start learning to drive at age 15 — they start at age 5 by observing their parents' behavior in the car." So this means no cell phones while driving, no distractions by passengers, no running red lights or stop signs. "Devote your attention to the driving task."
Good driving behavior starts with limiting distractions while driving, such as avoid fiddling with controls by picking a radio station, temperature and seat positioning before you start on the road, then stick with it.
This is a tough one — but wait until you reach your destination to chat on the cell phone. If your call can't wait until you've reached your destination, pull over to a safe area to make your call, or at the very least you and your new driver should use a hands-free set. Texting while driving is completely off-limits.
In addition, Dr. Van Tassel says parents should become involved in the process. This means supervising their kids while they're behind the wheel. "The parent is really in charge of the process. The first question the parent needs to ask is, 'Is my child ready to drive?'"
Even though your teen may be of age, the question is to determine if they are truly responsible and mature. Van Tassel recommends assessing their general responsibilities, their behavior and perhaps academics.
Arthur Goodwin, a senior researcher at UNC Highway Safety Research Center, notes one of the most important things is for parents to closely monitor their teens driving. "Keep close track on what the teens are doing."
In addition to parental involvement and learning about the licensing process in your state, one key to promoting safe driving is having a conversation that sets ground rules in the form of a parent-teen written contract. The contract should center around driving rules such as when the car is available, who pays for gasoline, and yes, what to do in the event your teen has had too much to drink.
This parent-teen written agreement should have suggested provisions including what to do in the event your teen is drunk and about to get behind the wheel or if he is the passenger of a drunk driver. An even better ground rule would be restricting your teen from drinking any alcohol until they are of legal drinking age.
"The agreement also covers drowsiness, speeding and safety belt use," he adds. It should discuss consequences of the behavior and by having the teen and parent sign it, it will hopefully become a springboard to discussion. Goodwin adds, "If a teen needs a ride, the understanding is the parents will pick him up. No questions asked, until the next day. The agreement spells out exactly what's expected."
Above all, Dr. Van Tassel emphasizes the importance of parental involvement. "A lot of parents abdicate responsibilities to a driving school. It's so important for parents to stay involved early on, and to treat learning to drive as a family process."
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