I can’t believe the time has actually come when my eldest son, Cole, is learning to drive. Incidentally, his driving lessons are occurring during Distracted Driving Awareness Month so it seems apt for me to share my experiences of having a teen in front of the wheel for the first time. What can we do to help our kids with this new experience towards independence? Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Act As A Driving Role Model
As with any parental situation, the best way to reinforce good habits is to display them yourself. Don’t just talk or preach about them – show them. If you show good driving technique and avoid distractions – like texting, talking and eating – your teen will too. Think safety first. Avoiding aggressive and inattentive driving tendencies yourself will put you in a stronger position to deal with your teen. Remember to practice the basics such as leaving plenty of space between you and the car in front, and always lock your doors and wear your seatbelt (to name a few).
Keep Distractions To A Minimal
Parents. When you are in the car with your learner driver, keep your mouth shut! I know you are dying to talk to your kid or ask questions but you need to remain calm and focused. And expect some mistakes.
Also, make sure that other distractions are kept to a minimal. Apparently, every day, at least nine Americans die and 100 are injured in distracted driving crashes. When we learned to drive decades ago (revealing my age here!), there were not the distractions in the vehicle that there are today – cell phones, dashboard touch screens, voice commands and other in-vehicle technologies all pose a new threat to our children’s safety.
Limit the level of activity in the car. No cell phones, eating, or multiple passengers (in fact, most states’ graduated driver licensing laws prohibit teens from having teenage passengers in the car with them during their early months of driving solo). Focus on the road and the drivers around you. Get everything settled before you start driving with your teen.
Slowly Does It
The other day I accompanied Cole for a practice drive and he was driving like Miss Daisy. The slow speed was lulling me to sleep. I was bored and couldn’t wait to get home and get on with my work. I reminded myself to take a moment – This isn’t forever, home life can wait, my kid is super psyched to drive, and he’s stuck with me in the passenger seat. So I flipped the switch and said to myself “I get to be driven by Cole. How cool is that?” This helped me calm down, be in the moment, and give him clear directions on what he needed to do next.
Just like a sports coach, your job as a parent and driving coach is to teach and stay cool under pressure. Being a good co-pilot will help your teen driver keep it together, too.
Pay Attention To Your Surroundings
The saying goes that when you learn to drive, 80% of you attention starts in the vehicle with only 20% of your focus outside the vehicle. This switches up the more experience you get. Remember this when you are accompanying your teen on a practice run. It’s your job to be an extra pair of eyes on the road – check mirrors frequently, scan conditions 20 to 30 seconds ahead of you, and preempt any dangerous drivers. Be alert as possible.
Buckle up, mamas. When they hit this age, it’s one hell of an emotional ride! Here are some helpful resources I discovered before Cole hit the road:
What Puts Teen Driver At Great Risk –https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/heres-what-puts-teen-drivers-greatest-risk-crash
Individual State’s DMV Site – https://dmv.vermont.gov/topics/teen-drivers
Helping Teenagers Be Safe –https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/26/well/family/helping-teenagers-to-be-safer-drivers.html