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Teamwork: Teacher-Parent-Teen

Together We Save LivesTeen Driver Training Requires Teamwork

When it comes to teen driver education, it is common for parents to take on the role of driving coach. And a good driving coach logs hundreds of hours of practice time with his or her teen driver, making sure to include different driving conditions and environments. A good driving coach also knows that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among young people aged 16 to 24. Carelessness and poor decision-making cause the majority of these incidents. Many parents are left wondering and worrying: “Have we practiced enough? Have we covered everything?”

“Driving is a monumental rite of passage for young people,” says Kathy Lusby-Treber, Executive Director of the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS). “The biggest risk facing teens today is not drugs or alcohol, school violence or suicide…it’s motor vehicle crashes. And every parent wants to know that they have done everything in their power to ensure that their teen is a safe driver.”

Recognizing that young drivers are at high-risk, many states in recent years have passed graduated licensing laws that mandate from 30 to 50 hours of adult-supervised, behind-the-wheel practice for teens as well as more formal driver education from trained instructors. This training is sometimes incorporated into a high school driver education program or is provided through a private driving school.

“When professional driving instruction is part of a teen’s training, it is important to take that task seriously and make it a joint decision,” says Lusby-Treber. “Teen drivers will be learning their basic skills through this process, so it is important that they feel comfortable and able to learn from the selected program. Allowing teens to have input on the decision can increase their participation in the program and ultimately help them become safer drivers.”

The most critical element in a new driver’s training is practice. Driver training classes teach basic skills, but these skills are only effective when practiced. That’s true in sports, music and—especially—in driving. That’s why it is vital for parents or the adult coach to take an active role in helping new teen drivers to practice their newly learned skills and to provide the opportunity for them to do so in a structured environment. The coach must guide the novice driver through a series of practice drives that progressively become more demanding. It’s the coach’s job to determine the skill-level of the teen and his/her readiness to attempt more challenging roadways and driving environments.

Safe driving requires more than learning basic skills; it requires the experience that allows drivers to make split-second decisions. The ability to make these decisions comes from hours and hours of practice driving. Parents can play a significant role in their teenager's development into competent and responsible drivers by allowing them to gain experience behind the wheel.

The most critical person, however, is the teen driver. It is crucial to include teen drivers’ input into their training. Ask them how they feel about a particularly difficult driving maneuver and what areas they feel need more improvement. Incorporate their suggestions into the training and let them know that their opinions are important.

NETS developed the Novice Driver’s Road Map as a practice guide to help both parents and teens navigate the challenging process of learning safe driving behaviors. The “Coach’s Game Book” contains important information on how to be a good role model, what mistakes to expect, how to select a good driving school, and using a teen/parent contract. The Road Map is an excellent tool to help families close the communication gap and start talking frankly about driving safety…and practicing it. That’s teamwork!

[The preceding article is from NETS—Network of Employers for Traffic Safety—and is used here with permission.]

Posted: 8/13/2008