Parenting In Focus: Your new driver

Traffic accidents are the number one killer of American teenagers. The worst driver is the one who has had less than one year of driving experience.

So how can you protect your teen? Here are some guidelines for parents:

• Determine if your teen’s ability to make good decisions is well suited to drive. Does he have good grades? Good decisions and good grades are a way to measure his readiness.

• Set clear consequences for poor or fast driving and stick to them.

• Limit distractions. Don’t let him use his cell phone in the car. You may not catch him, but if you do, make sure there are consequences.

• Never use the time in the car to discipline about other matters like cleaning his rom or missing his curfew. Talk about these later.

• Remember safe driving is a lesson he is learning lesson. This kind of learning also requires a lot of parental patience.

• Don’t forget to use optimistic words of encouragement when you see him improving.

• Washington state has laws about night driving and driving with peer passengers while he has a special license as a new driver. For the first 12 months, his driving is limited unless he is with a licensed driver at least 25 years old. For the first six months he cannot drive with passengers under age 20 unless they are family members (“Steering Teens to Safety”).

One thing older citizen have in common with teenagers is the high rate of automobile accidents. In both young and old, males are the primary problem. Remember, as a parent, the car is yours and you set the rules.

Students Against Drunk Driving and Liberty Mutual found that teens whose parents clearly set consequences and followed through significantly reduced the chances of their teen being involved in unsafe behavior behind the wheel.

When parents set clear consequences, their teen is less likely to drive over the speed limit, less likely to drive with passengers in the car when they shouldn’t be and even less likely to talk on a cell phone while they drive.

Accidents are worth talking about with your teen. Make sure you talk about accidents for all ages. Remember, young people are less experienced and are also more likely to have alcohol or drugs involved. Remember too, that this article talks about driving and boys. Don’t forget to talk about the same rules for girls.

Write out your rules of the road and the consequences if your teen breaks them. One parent set it up so that first, her teen is expected to wash the car each week. Then, if he makes honor role, he can use the car for school activities, errands, and dates. If he drinks, there will be no driving for two months. Her teen really heard her, and he is abiding by the rules.

Here once again, you are his first teacher. You are also a great teacher because you are using your vehicle to teach him. This is a very powerful positive weapon in teaching your teen.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which published newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents.