Teaching Teen Drivers
By CWK Network Producer
“Every new driver needs to go through a defensive driving course – a classroom portion. But that just gives them the head knowledge. What young drivers especially need is experience.”
— Robert Wilson, National Safety Council
A new survey of teen drivers by the Allstate Foundation reports that 48 percent of teen girls questioned say they have driven 10 miles over the speed limit. Just 36 percent of the boys admit to speeding. Perhaps even more troubling: 77 percent said they felt unsafe when another teen was behind the wheel.
How should we train today’s new teen drivers?
Today only 15 percent of new drivers get any kind of formal training before they get behind the wheel. That’s a dramatic change from 30 years ago when driver’s ed was nearly universal. On the other hand, today some young drivers get training that might be called driver’s ed on steroids.
Welcome to defensive driving at the racetrack. This isn’t your parents’ driver’s ed. The program is not only more extreme, it’s more expensive than conventional driving courses. But is it worth it?
“Oh, yeah,” says 17-year-old Erika, “because you think what happens if I flip the car, or what happens if I mess up, everybody’s looking, I’m gonna mess up…it’s scary out there.”
Her father, Dave, agrees. “Absolutely. I mean, I will worry less and I believe she’ll have more respect for the vehicle and what it can do, so yeah, hands down.”
Seventeen-year-old Andrew also has good things to say about the class. “I think it’s gonna help my confidence a lot. You stay relaxed. If something happens you don’t tense up and freak out.”
“Every new driver needs to go through a defensive driving course- a classroom portion,” explains Robert Wilson of the National Safety Council, “but that just gives them the head knowledge. What young drivers especially need is experience. The skid pad, for instance, is a great experience, teaching kids that if they are in a skid, how to handle it.”
Skidding, spinning and wiping out may seem like fun to some kids, but there is reason to be cautious, says Wilson. “The tendency, especially with young boys, might be to take lessons learned on the racetrack and convert that to regular highway driving and that certainly is a caution. I know the instructors at these schools strongly discourage that and explain that to the kids.”
Wilson adds that whatever course your child takes, it needs to be followed by driving lessons from mom or dad. “The parents need to be driving with these teenagers after this school experience, to reinforce the lessons learned, the proper lessons, and that speed is not acceptable under any conditions.”
What Parents Need to Know
A new Allstate Foundation survey combats the thinking that girls are safer drivers than boys. Among the findings:
- 16% of girls describe their driving as aggressive, up from 9% in 2005.
- 84% of girls are likely to adjust music selection or volume while driving, versus only 69% of boys.
- 82% of teens report using cell phones while driving.
- 23% of teens admit to drinking and driving.
- 77% of teens admit they have felt unsafe with another teen’s driving.
- 23% of teens agree that most teens are good drivers.
- More teens (22%) consider parents in the car more distracting than having their friends in the car (14%).
Driving is a risky business for all American teenagers. Despite spending less time driving than all other age groups (except the elderly), teenage drivers have disproportionately high rates of crashes and fatalities. Experts say that the high accident rates for teens are caused by a combination of factors, most notably teenagers’ immaturity and lack of driving experience. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System collected the following data about teenage drivers:
- Crashes are the leading cause of death among 16- to 19-year-olds.
- The majority of teenage passenger deaths occur when another teen is driving.
- Two-thirds of teens killed in motor vehicle crashes are male.
- Among teenage drivers, alcohol is a factor in 23 percent of fatal accidents involving males, 10 percent of fatal accidents involving females.
- More than half of the teenage motor vehicle deaths occur on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
- Of those deaths, 41 percent occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The risks involved in letting a teenager get behind the wheel of a car are very real, but there are safety measures parents can take to improve the odds for beginning drivers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers these tips:
- Don’t rely solely on driver education. High school driving courses may be the most convenient way to teach driving skills, but they don’t produce safer drivers.
- Supervise practice driving. Take an active role in helping your teen learn how to drive. Supervised practice should be spread over at least six months and continue even after your teen graduates from a learner’s permit to a restricted or full license.
- Remember, you are a role model. New drivers learn by example, so you must practice safe driving. Teens with crashes and violations often have parents with poor driving records.
- Restrict night driving. Most nighttime fatal crashes among young drivers occur between 9 p.m. and midnight, so your teen shouldn’t be driving much later than 9 p.m.
- Restrict passengers. Teenage passengers in a vehicle can distract a new driver and/or lead to greater risk-taking. The best policy is to restrict the number of teenage passengers your teen is allowed to transport.
- Require safety belts. Don’t assume that your teen is using a safety belt when he’s with his friends, just because he uses it when you’re together. Research shows that safety belt use is lower among teens than older people. Insist that your teen use a safety belt at all times.
- Prohibit driving after drinking. Make it clear that it is illegal and highly dangerous for a teen to drive after drinking alcohol or using any other drug. While alcohol isn’t a factor in most crashes of teenagers, even small amounts of alcohol are impairing for teens.
- Choose vehicles for safety, not image. Teens should drive vehicles that reduce their chances of a crash and offer protection in case they do crash. For example, small cars don’t offer the best protection in a crash. Avoid cars with performance images that might encourage speeding. Avoid trucks and sport utility vehicles, particularly the smaller ones, which are more prone to roll over.
About the Program
A new survey of teen drivers by the Allstate Foundation reports that 48 percent of teen girls questioned say they have driven 10 miles over the speed limit. Just 36 percent of the boys admit to speeding. Perhaps even more troubling: 77 percent said they felt unsafe when another teen was behind the wheel