By Kelly Ettenborough
Most of us remember the thrill of getting our first driver’s licenses, that feeling of freedom and the glimpse into adulthood. Now that we’re parents, that thrill may be replaced with apprehension as we let our “babies” go out into the world. While we can’t build bubbles around our teenagers, as parents, we can take these four steps to keep them safer on the road.
Create a Contract
More than two people die each day in a crash in the state of Arizona, according to Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT). Sixteen and 17-year-old teens make up about 1.5 percent of Arizona drivers, but account for more than 5 percent of accidents in the state, according to ADOT.
Talk to your teen about clear expectations for driving alone and what will happen when they break the rules. Come up with the list together, then sign and date the contract together.
Remind your teenagers about the law, too. For example, seat belts are required for all occupants, and the driver can be ticketed for occupants who do not wear seat belts.
Consider the top reasons teens are involved in accidents, according to AAA, a not-for-profit organization committed to travel safety: peer pressure, distracted driving, speeding, driving with passengers, alcohol use, poor visual scanning, and difficulty judging space and time. Take time to address each reason. One example could be no talking or texting on the cell phone while driving.
Arizona is one of the few states without a ban on texting and driving by law, but many states do have this law as the distraction of texting can impair a driver as much as alcohol. One study, by the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York, showed that more 3,000 teens die annually from accidents that involve texting compared to less than 2,700 teens that die from driving under the influence of alcohol.
While many families set curfews, the Centas family created a different kind of expectation for their daughter Paige, who is now in college. The parents set a time range and asked her to text before she left.
“With a curfew, most kids will go to the last possible minute and not want to leave their friends, and they would rush home so they wouldn’t get in trouble,” Judith Centas says. “We didn’t want to create a dangerous situation. I know the number one cause of death of teens is driving accidents, and for us, it was trying to eliminate as many variables as we could.”
As you create the contract, talk about consequences, including loss of driving privileges, and be willing to follow through. Help your teenagers understand that safety is what is most important.
AAA offers more advice on teen driving, including a sample contract, at teendriving.aaa.com. The sample contract also includes ideas on increasing privileges as your teen driver becomes more skilled.
Many teens complete driving schools before getting their licenses, but continued education can be not only be fun but also helpful in creating a lifetime of safe driving skills.
The Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving offers a five-hour teen driving program for beginners and a one- to three-day advanced teenage driving program. The advanced program builds on the fundamentals, according to the school, and most of the time is spent in a car instead of in a classroom. Teens also spend time in the accident avoidance simulator. Behind the wheel, in a safe environment on the track, teens can practice recovery from real-life situations such as a skid. To qualify, teens must have a valid driver’s license and a minimum of six months of experience.
“It’s terrifying, anytime you put your kids on the road. You have to let them go, but you want them to have as much in the way of tools and information as possible,” says Erin Acuna, a Peoria mom and mother of Tyler, 17, who took both the basic and the advanced teen driving classes at Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, bondurant.com. “Phoenix, particularly, is such an intimidating city to drive in. He tried really hard, but after taking that first course, this light went off, especially the way he approached intersections and the way he stopped.”
Continuing education from someone who is not a parent also made a difference, she added, about the advanced class. This time he learned about looking for an escape route beyond the accident ahead and overall control of the car.
After Tyler took the advanced class, the family was leaving a party, after dark, in a neighborhood with no streetlights and a lot of cars. “I was biting my nails, like he’s going to hit a car, and he says ‘Mom, I’ve got this.’ It was incredible to see his skills, and he backed the car out with complete confidence,” Erin says.
“The skid car was one of the most important things I could ever do with driving in general because that could happen at any time, anywhere, and you can’t do that on your own,” Tyler says. “If something were to happen, I wouldn’t know what to do, like in an accident. So it’s really cool that they allow you to skid and get that experience.”
Talk through the ‘What Ifs’
Does your teen know what to do if they are pulled over by a police officer and given a speeding ticket? What about if they are in an accident and an adult starts yelling or people are hurt?
Learning to drive is one skill. Figuring out next steps in real-world situations ahead of time is a different skill. Practicing what to say may not take the anxiety out of situation, but it will give your teenager confidence to know how to handle themselves.
Monitor your Teen Driver
One in six teens is involved in an accident in his or her first year of driving, and in-car technology can reduce risky driving by more than 70 percent, according to American Family Insurance. That’s why they install for their customers, for free, a device on the rear-view mirror that records video triggered by erratic movement, such as hard braking, fast acceleration and crashes, amfam.com/teensafedriver. The information is transmitted wirelessly to the Teen Safe Driver Center and reviewed. Parents can log in and view footage and evaluate the driving. While this level of scrutiny isn’t for every family, increased technology gives parents a variety of ways to know what’s going in the car when they aren’t there.
Other systems can track movement, location, speed and other driving habits for review with different costs and features. Check out mobileteengps.com, intouchmvc.com/teendrivingmonitoring and iteen365.com.
Most insurance companies offer discounts on car insurance for students with good grades and for students who complete driver’s schools. Check with your insurance agent for details.
Know the law
In Arizona, teenagers go through a three-step process designed to gradually introduce them to driving. The first is the permit test with eligibility at 15 years and six months old. After six months and 30 hours of practice driving, including 10 hours of practice at night, teenagers can take the behind-the-wheel test. Until the teen is 18, state law (with some exceptions) restricts a teenager from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. They also cannot drive alone with more than one non-family member under 18. At 18, a teen driver can apply for a Class D driver license if he or she has no suspensions.