One parent has said, “Trying to have good communications with my teenager is about as futile as trying to beat Tiger Woods at golf.” Conversing with teens–really communicating with them–is a constant challenge for most of us parents. As eager as we are to talk with them, teens seem to hold the upper hand by being too busy, resorting to silence or, at best, uttering monosyllabic responses.
But, when it’s time for teenagers to learn to drive and obtain a driver’s license, the advantage reverts to mom and dad. It’s as simple as this: The folks control the car and its keys and the use thereof. No matter what kind of driver education program they go through, teens ultimately need to deal with their parents in order to use the family car. Earning their “wings” as licensed drivers gains them little if they don’t then get use of the “wheels.” And for that, they must go through us.
Fellow parents, this gives us enormous leverage in communicating with our teenagers. It’s a key advantage in our dealing with their adolescence and getting across the messages that we feel are crucial to their very survival as rookie drivers (not to mention to the well-being of our vehicle and to holding the line on our auto insurance premiums). The vital information that we want to sink into their brains is first and foremost about safety.
So, what do you want to communicate to your teen? You can try impressing them with the stats above or using other “scare tactics.” But remember, teenagers believe they are invincible. They don’t see themselves as victims of a car crash. They are perhaps more believing that “others” are vulnerable–their friends, people in other cars, pedestrians, workers in work zones. The trick is to convince them that unsafe driving puts not only themselves but also others in real danger.
Consider this: In their first three years as new drivers, 88% of all teenagers have a collision. Overall, motor vehicle crashes kill more teens than any other cause. In the 15- to 20-year-old age group, car crashes cause 32% of all deaths. A 16-year-old is 20 times more likely to be killed in a crash than is an adult.
And to focus on work zones, crashes there resulted in nearly 1,200 deaths and 40,000 injuries in 2002! On average, a teen driver is killed every three days in a work zone crash and seven others are injured each day.
Many rookie drivers are prone to risky behaviors such as speeding, tailgating, and weaving in traffic. They may be tempted to show off for their peers–one good reason for prohibiting new drivers from carrying a carload of their friends (a common restriction in GDL programs).
Even when novice drivers don’t show off for a carload of their friends, they may be distracted by them. So, whether GDL requirements demand it or our own parental rules prohibit it, limiting their passengers is wise.
Popular or not, much of the communicating that we need to do with our teen drivers relates to RULES. The degree of responsibility they demonstrate with things in general–and have demonstrated in the past–helps us to know the kinds of rules that need to be set, and how to enforce them. Their willingness to obey the rules, and their actual keeping of them, is the gauge by which they can advance to greater freedom and privileges in their driving.
Even without GDL programs that provide the regulations, we parents have the right and authority to establish rules of driving behavior for our teenagers. And the issues are well known: seat belts, speeding, passengers and nighttime curfews, for example. To these purely driving issues, many parents add rules about achieving good grades and fulfilling other teen responsibilities.
For additional information on the role of parental rules in contributing to safer teen driving, read an article on a recent study published in the magazine Health Education & Behavior. Copy the following link to the address line of your browser: http://www.cfah.org/hbns/newsrelease/driving3-28-02.cfm
You would think some things never change–like the basic instructional points of driver education. But think again–the times are definitely changing. Today’s cars, roads and stress have made modifications necessary. Not in everything, mind you, but in a few key areas.
Driving instructors know about these changes, but you parents may need to catch up. It’s not your same old driver’s ed anymore!
Turning Point: Roadway Work Zone Safety for New Drivers wants to help you catch up to current driving instruction. After all, you don’t want to embarrass yourself by losing an argument with your teen about the right way to drive. Worse, you don’t want to undo the correct teaching your teen has received by browbeating him or her into “doing it your way.”
So what are we talking about? Safety experts have adapted traditional driving instructions to new conditions, theories and technologies. Here’s a sampling:
|The OLD…||The NEW…|
|Turn headlights on only at night or in poor visibility.||Keep the headlights on at all times so that you can both see and be seen better.|
|Hold the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions.||Hold the steering wheel at the 8 and 4 o’clock positions to protect arms and face if the air bag deploys.|
|Make turns using the hand-over-hand method for turning the steering wheel.||Make turns by pushing up one side of the steering wheel while pulling down the other side, shuffling your hands to keep them at the 8 and 4 o’clock positions. (The idea, again, is to keep your arms out of harm’s way if the air bag deploys.)|
|Set the outside mirrors so you can see the sides of your car and the vehicles behind you.||Set the outside mirrors 15 degrees wider than the traditional setting so you can see multiple highway lanes on each side.|
|For each 10 miles per hour you travel, keep one car length between you and the vehicle ahead.||Count 3 to 4 seconds after the car ahead passes a stationary object. Maintain that spacing as a safe cushion.|
|Pump the brakes during sudden stops.||If you have anti-lock brakes, keep your foot on the brake during sudden stops.|
Driver educators are beginning to explore young drivers’ state of mind–with a new focus on the dangers of aggressive driving, of carrying too many passengers (namely peers), and of driving when tired. They are teaching novice drivers about such things as circadian rhythms (their body’s daily activity cycle), controlling their temper when being cut off by another driver, and not carrying a weapon of any sort in their car.
They are addressing the problem of distractions while driving–adjusting CD player, radio or other audio controls…eating or drinking…using a cell phone… interact ing with passengers… reach ing for objects on the car seat or floor…checking hair or makeup in the visor mir ror…or simply not paying attention.
Finally, educators are adding instruction about proper use of carpool lanes, safe driving in work zones, and dealing with vehicles’ different centers of gravity based on their weight and profile.
No, it’s not the same old driver’s education out there. With new rules of the road to accompany changes in and roadway designs and conditions, updated techniques for handling today’s automobiles and their accessories, and a focus on young drivers’ minds and emotions, educators are bringing driving instruction into the 21 st Century.
Now that you’re aware of some of the changes in driver’s ed instruction, how would you like to know what messages police officers would like to send to the parents of new teen drivers? To find out, go to www.ipromiseprogram.com, then to “Important Reports,” and finally to “Police Survey: What police want parents of teen drivers to know.”