By Guest Blogger Julie Giljames
When I watched him pull out of our driveway for the first time, my eyes welling with tears, I felt completely vulnerable and out of control. The pit in my stomach may feel familiar for parents of first-time drivers. Though parents may wish for a school-zone speed limit as their babies take the road, newly licensed drivers feel far from that safe zone for their parents. You’ve ridden in the car with your child as they’ve made mistakes, responded correctly, maintained their speed, and learned from hands-on experience. For some, they may have even taken their child out on the road in hazardous situations, curvy roads, snow, ice, and stormy weather, to help their child learn how to drive in these conditions. The teacher in me recalls the science experiments from my youth, conducted in a controlled environment, and recognizes that once alone, the environment will change. When I hear my son’s music pumping from the confines of the garage, see four teenage boys unload from the car, and notice the McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-A wrappers, I know he has created a new environment for his driving experience, and that makes me uneasy. I surveyed several parents of new drivers to seek out their best advice for the curvy twists and turns of sixteen year olds behind the wheel. Read on, parents, and attempt to settle those nervous stomachs as your teens take the wheel.
Getting them ready for the wide open road is required for the safety of all. In the beginning, your child most likely lacks confidence, yet if you have a reluctant driver, make them practice. A great place to start is a large open space, like BB&T field’s parking lot. It’s important for them to learn how to park, take turns, stop appropriately, merge and navigate their own city. Learning the names of the streets they frequent regularly is important, as well as gauging drive time from various points. Use the RoadReady app to track their hours, and read the tips when you open the app with them. These are helpful, common sense tips that provide real scenarios and advice for new drivers.
As your child learns, it’s also a good time to shop car insurance policies. Know that your premium will most likely triple once they get their licence. (Learner’s permit will not affect insurance.) For teens, if their primary car is an older car, it helps with this cost, which is one of the reasons we provided an older car for our son. It drops significantly with each six months of spotless driving. However, we had a conversation with our new driver about the consequences of tickets and accidents. He knows that he will be contributing to the costs of insurance and repairs should either of these occur. In addition, one parent suggests walking through the steps in the event of an accident, like being able to locate the registration, exchanging insurance information, or calling the police.
Once your child gets his license, create a set of ground rules on day one. We discussed the consequences of speeding and accidents, along with following the 9:00pm rule. (See DMV website and rules here.) One parent shared, “If they get a ticket or are in a fender bender, they also have to pay for the costs associated with them. Our hope is that this will make the kids slow down or be more aware while driving. Accidents do happen, and it is not about punishing them, but more about accountability.” Yet one rule we neglected to discuss was driving distance. On week two of his new independence with the car, my son took off on a road trip to Hanging Rock – without telling me that was his ultimate destination. I can’t blame him for this since I had not clearly defined his boundaries as a new driver. On the flip side, I like that he felt confident enough to take on those curvy roads. Even so, we had a good talk about telling us his destination, especially if it’s not the general neighborhood, before driving to a destination. The silver lining of this anxiety-filled day: I am not worried about a longer road trip with him, as he has already crossed this hurdle.
Remember the 9:00pm rule. This took one mistake to help him get it. My son wanted to go to the season opening football game with a buddy. He recognized that the drive to the game would take a length of time, but then he didn’t plan his exit. When he arrived home at 9:20pm, we were well out of our comfort zone. My laid-back son tried to explain it away, only to be met with consequences and a new rule to call for a rescue if he didn’t estimate enough time to make it home. It’s silly to lose your license over a rule that can be easily followed. Teens don’t always plan ahead, so sending them a reminder and then following through with consequences are key.
We learned this one by accident: Take two cars on road trips and watch how your child drives. Following him on the highway created some valuable debriefing moments once we arrived at our final destination. I noticed my son wasn’t using his turn signal on the highway, and when we arrived, I asked him to explain himself, and then talked to him about the car that hadn’t seen him switching lanes. We also talked about the value of cruise control for setting the speed, which prevents speeding and increases his safety.
Invest in a post-license driving school to practice the unexpected. I and several friends enrolled their children in this course to give our kids some skills that they don’t necessarily learn. I got lucky with the Guard Your Life Challenge in Columbia, SC at the BMW plant. Along with a buddy, our sons learned about hydroplaning, distracted driving, and braking at top speeds. They practiced these skills to know how to handle these common issues, and according to the highway patrolmen also in attendance that day, few drivers have confidence in these specific areas. Both boys found the spinning hydroplaning practice a real thrill. They also liked driving at top speeds and slamming on the brakes. And the distracted driving course showed them the potential consequences; my son drove through three cones on the distracted driver obstacle course, after initially acing it in a distraction-free controlled environment. Though they haven’t had to use this practice yet on the roads, I feel better having facilitated it.
Consider using apps to track your child’s driving, but with caution. Several friends use the Find my Friends app. I have used this before when my own son has gone hiking for the day, but at times, checking will increase my anxiety. If my app won’t update, my head immediately goes the the bad space. Typically though, he’s just in a data-free area. At the same time, when I see where he is on Highway 421, I feel reassured that he is safely on his way home. Many parents echoed these thoughts. There are other apps that do more like the motosafety -your teen driving coach app. This app comes with a monthly fee, but it tracks their routes, speed, braking, and even sends alerts. Another friend recommended installing the app Automatic on the car. It is mainly used for car maintenance, but it also tracks speed. I struggle with the way apps can invade privacy, so I tend to rely on my friends and the police to call them out.
It does take a village to raise our children! In our neighborhood, we have a Facebook page that alerts neighbors to risky and careless drivers. More than once, I have recognized a car and messaged a friend with a cautionary word. In addition, the parents of my son’s friends talk. We aren’t afraid to have hard conversations about our sons and daughters. Regardless of where you are in the process of training your driver, be it in a Cozy Coupe or a Camry, I hope you find some comfort in thinking through how you will navigate the roads with your new driver.
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