A highlight of teenage years for most young folks is getting a driver's license for the first time. Not only is it a sign of approaching adulthood, but it also offers the possibility of increased freedom from constant parental scrutiny.
Unfortunately, driving is like many other skills in life - performance improves with practice and maturity is needed to cope with dangerous situations that may arise. The excitement of finally being behind the wheel should not blind inexperienced drivers and their parents to the reality that disaster can be the result of errors behind the wheel.
Helping new drivers become safe and responsible on the road is a challenge for any parent. Teenagers tend to resent advice from any adult that they consider overly prescriptive. It might be a good idea, however, for parents to talk about driving hazards with their teens. A worthy goal would be achieving a parent-teen consensus on driving rules.
The following suggested rules for new drivers from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry might be a good starting point for a family discussion:
Parents should not allow young drivers unrestricted driving privileges until they have gained sufficient experience.
Parents should limit their teen's driving alone in adverse weather conditions (rain, snow, ice, fog, etc.) and at night until the teen has sufficient skills and experience.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal and dangerous and should be strictly prohibited.
Parents should work out when and where the teen is allowed to drive the car (e.g., to and from part-time job).
Everyone in the car must wear seat belts at all times.
Parents should determine whether and when their teen can drive passengers. Some states have established a law that no passengers are allowed in the car until the teen has logged a defined period of safe independent driving.
Parents should determine what behavior or circumstances will result in loss of the teen's driving privileges.
Teens should not drive when fatigued or tired.
Headphones should never be worn while driving.
Helmets must be worn when riding a motorcycle.
Teens should be encouraged to take an annual defensive driving course after obtaining their license.
Additionally, teens should be reminded that using a cell phone while driving is extremely risky and texting is absolutely unacceptable.
Learning to drive safely is part of becoming an adult. Making certain that this aspect of growing up will be an occasion for only happy memories should be a priority for teens and their parents alike.