With budget cuts forcing school districts across the U.S. to either cut back or eliminate free student driving programs, many parents now have the responsibility of ensuring their teens become safe drivers.
One of the first hurdles is selecting a driver’s education program that offers students a combination of classroom experience and behind-the-wheel time. While these programs, offered for a fee (this can be anywhere from $350 to $750) through school districts and private organizations, are a good first step, they typically offer only six to eight hours of actual driving experience.
This amount falls short of the minimum 50 hours of supervised driving (including 10 hours at night) that most states require teens to have before they can obtain full driving privileges.
“Parents need to look at more than just preparing teens to pass their driver’s license exam; they need to help them learn skills that will keep them safe on the road,” says Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
And practice is key. “The more a teen can practice driving in a supervised setting, the better the driver they will become,” Harsha says.
Terresa Clark of Lake Oswego, Oregon, estimates she and her husband already have logged well over 100 hours of supervised driving with their 17-year-old daughter, Natalie.
“Natalie started driver’s ed with a summer program last year that was offered through our school district,” Clark says. “Since then, we’ve taken her out to practice driving, and to work on skills such as parking, driving on the freeway, and driving safely at night and in different weather conditions.”
How parents can help
Here are six tips on how you can help your teen become a safe driver.
1. Teach the right skills.
A 2010 study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found the majority of teen crashes involve three common mistakes – failure to reduce speed, inattention and failure to yield. Parents can download a free brochure from the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety website that outlines safe driving practices. In addition, make sure your teen gets as much behind-the-wheel practice as possible. Some experts say the 50 hours required by most states should be considered a minimum.
“You can put the brochure in your glove compartment and check off the skills your teen has mastered,” says Bill Windsor, associate vice president of safety at Nationwide Insurance.
2. Check your state’s requirements.
Harsha says all 50 states have some version of graduated driver’s licensing. Typically, Harsha says, new drivers go through three stages – learner to intermediate to full privilege. Advancing through these stages is based on criteria including age, how many supervised driving hours have been completed, night driving restrictions, and how many passengers the new driver is permitted to carry.
3. Be a good role model.
A survey released in September 2012 by Liberty Mutual and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) showed that parents follow different rules behind the wheel than those they set for young drivers; more than 90 percent of teens reported that their speed or talk on a cellphone while driving.
“You can’t tell your kids not to talk or text while driving, and then break your own rules,” Windsor says.
4. Choose a program wisely.
Since private driver’s education programs can be costly, it’s important to do some research beforehand.
Many programs provided through school districts cost less than those provided by for-profit schools. In Federal Way, Washington, the school district charges $400 for a student driving program offering 30 to 34 classroom hours and six one-hour driving sessions with a certified traffic safety coordinator.
“In addition, parents should ask what’s covered in the program, check the driving school’s status with the Better Business Bureau and ensure instructors are certified,” says Mike Grady, traffic safety coordinator for Federal Way Public Schools.
5. Sign a driving agreement.
A driving agreement between a parent and teen should state that the teen driver will follow the rules of the road, including always wearing a seat belt, never drinking and driving, and never talking on a phone while driving, Windsor says. It also should include rules about always obeying speed limits and traffic laws.
“Parents also need to enforce consequences if their teen breaks the contract,” Windsor says.
Parents can set out their own terms, or download a sample agreement at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
6. Emphasize education.
“No one can learn to be a good driver in six one-hour lessons,” Grady says. “Parents need to supplement their children’s driving, either by taking them on supervised lessons, or recruiting another adult such as a relative or family friend who can provide supervised opportunities.”
Also, many insurers and automakers provide free online teen driving programs that provide education, including Farmers Insurance, Ford, Toyota and State Farm.