In areas which have teen curfews, auto crashes have been reduced by as much as 69 percent during restricted hours.
Every parent wonders, “So what can I do to make my teen a better driver?”
The biggest problem with teen drivers, say the experts, is lack of experience. Driving errors were the overwhelming cause of 82 percent of 16-year-old drivers' fatal crashes nationally in 1993, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. As drivers become more experienced, alcohol becomes a much greater cause of accidents (see Teens and Drinking for information on drinking and driving).
According to a spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, most teens find it relatively easy to steer and maneuver the car; what's difficult for them is scanning the scene, learning to predict danger, and developing the maturity to make responsible decisions. Here are some safe driving guidelines:
Some safety experts advocate staged licensing programs that permit young drivers to gain driving experience gradually.
The recommended program generally consists of three stages: a learner's permit stage, during which all driving must be supervised; a restricted license stage, which allows unsupervised driving in limited circumstances; and a full, unrestricted license for eligible drivers who have remained free of violations or crashes.
Experts stress that staged licensing programs are the safest way to learn to drive, because it isn't acquiring the skills that's the problem, it's getting the experience.
- Convertibles, “hot cars,” and Jeeps with roll bars are accidents waiting to happen in the hands of a teen. Select a good-sized, safe vehicle for your teen to drive—nothing smaller than a mid-size car.
- Give your teen lots of supervised practice, before and after she gets her license.
- In the beginning, restrict your teen to daytime driving. Roughly half the fatal motor vehicle accidents involving teenagers happen at night. That's partly because visibility is more difficult, and also because night driving is generally for recreational purposes and kids are likely to be less responsible drivers at night.
- Don't allow your teen to drive on highways (without supervision) for a time. Handling a car at higher speeds requires additional practice.
- Friends can be distracting, so your teen's first “solo” runs should be truly solo. Permit her to add passengers gradually. If one of her friends is a “cut-up” who worries you, ask that she wait a little longer before driving that particular kid around.
- Reward violation-free, accident-free driving by lifting these restrictions one by one. If you learn that your teen has violated one of your safety guidelines, talk to her. While any violation of your guidelines is a violation of your trust, you may want to treat the offense according to its seriousness. If she's had one extra friend in the car, you might give her a warning. (You may decide that she's responsible enough to handle a passenger or two soon anyway.) If she took off for the open road with a ton of kids packed into the car, you might suspend her privileges for a week. If she drove on the highway without permission (which is illegal in some states for teens who have only a junior license), you might take away her privileges for a longer period of time.
- Temporarily suspend your teen's driving privileges for speeding, driving without wearing a seat belt, or driving under the influence of alcohol. Driving without a seat belt is illegal in many states, and you should warn your teen that he doesn't want any tickets at this stage of his driving career. Speeding or driving under the influence should be treated firmly and strictly. You might consider requiring that he attend an extra driver's lesson (that he pays for himself) in addition to suspending his driving privileges for a while. Then let him regain his privileges gradually; for example, you might let him use the car only to get to school or his job before he can start using it again for social occasions.
- Driving in bad weather requires extra practice. You may want to drive your teen yourself, or at least specify that he cannot drive friends in bad weather.