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When Parents Take Control, Teens Drive More Safely
Published: Saturday, December 3, 2011

By: Staff Writers

Teens and parents could hardly view the issues surrounding driving more differently. Given our mobile society, you can't really blame teens for wanting to get in on the driving action as soon as possible.

Teens view the privilege of driving as an unmistakable proof of passage to near-adulthood. Think back. Do you remember the sheer excitement of driving? The freedom it represented? The sense of maturity you felt?

With a newly-issued driver license in their pocket or purse, teens suddenly feel immense freedom. They're able to get away from Mom and Dad. To go places on their own. To call their own shots. Although piloting a 4,000 pound vehicle over the roadway gives most kids a good shot of nerves at doesn't take long to get the feel of the vehicle. Driving quickly moves from a state of awkwardness and ultra caution, to comfort and familiarity. Jumpy nerves become "nerves of steel" because teens feel invincible. Getting and keeping permission to drive becomes incredibly important. It reflects on a teen's perceived esteem among peers. It spells the difference between staying home or having fun with friends. It means leaving the school bus behind forever! For a junior or senior, being forced to ride the bus to school is, like, embarrassing. Older teens will do almost anything to avoid that dreaded situation.

For Parents - Relief and Worry

While teens are excited, parents with young drivers struggle with ambivalence. On one hand they're relieved. No longer do Mom and Dad have to run a taxi service - picking up, dropping off. Gone are the awkward moments, serving as chauffer for an occasional date with boy and girl in the back seat, and driver-Dad trying not to embarrass his child just because he's Dad.

At the same time, parents know very well that driving is fraught with danger. Danger so acute that it can injure, maim, and worse. Most parents believe their children are responsible, sensible and trustworthy. Unlikely to become a heart-breaking statistic. They want to help their kids learn to drive safely, and so they enroll them in driver training; spend hours on the road coaching their youngsters on the rules of the road and safe handling of their four-wheeled shiny, metal behemoth.

Parents have to balance their wishes to end the taxi service with the concerns about traffic incidents, citations, accidents and fatalities. How do parents achieve that balance? In part, by weighing the risks and the benefits of handing over the car keys to their teen.

How Parents View Risky Driving

Two studies show how parents evaluate those risks.

A study reported in the Journal of Safety Research asked parents to rate various kinds of risky driving behavior driving without a seat belt, drinking and driving, driving in bad weather, at night in the rain, driving with a friend, or with two or more friends. 92 percent of parents rated drinking and driving as "extremely risky." No surprise there. But only about 60 percent of parents rated those other dangerous behaviors as risky. Yet these are precisely the risk factors that lead to teen fatalities. These are the risk factors that are restricted by Graduated Driver Licensing laws in 46 of our 50 states! Conclusion? It appears that a majority of parents in this study rate the most risky behaviors as only moderate concerns.

A Safe Teen Driving Club survey of parents conducted in 2005 shows another parental view. Most parents feel that their teens are less likely to engage in risky driving than teens in general. "I trust my kid." "My son/daughter is responsible." The survey shows an average concern for one's own teen's behavior at just 4.11 on a scale from one to ten, but 6.85 on the same scale when thinking about "teens in general." (See Table 1 below.) Do Moms and Dads have too jaundiced a view about teen drivers overall? Or perhaps an overly optimistic view about their own kids? One thing is clear: teen driving incidents, accidents and fatalities hit families hard. And they can happen in an instant to even the most responsible young drivers.

What Rules Do Parents Put in Place?

To reduce driving risks, most parents establish rules for their kids. Our 2005 survey found that about 78 percent of parents surveyed do so. (See Table 2 below.) Limitations on the number and/or age of passengers allowed in the vehicle headed the list, followed by geographic restrictions. Some of these are right on target with Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws. GDL laws are designed to allow beginning drivers to get early experience under less risky conditions, introducing them in stages to more complex driving scenarios.

The "model" GDL proposed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Traffic Injury Research Foundation recommends that GDL laws should...

- License drivers with a learner's permit no younger than 16
- Require parental supervision of teen driving for 30-50 hours over a period of at least six months. (Many states are currently considering increasing the term to 12 months; California has already done so, effective January, 2006.
- Require an intermediate stage lasting until age 18 that restricts driving late at night, and the number or presence of passengers below age 21 in the vehicle. Restrictions on cell phone use are also recommended.

It's clear that parents participating in our survey have most often set rules matching the key provisions of the GDL model. Yet setting the rules - and even having some of them codified into law - may not prevent a teen from bending or breaking them.

Parents Are Taking Control

We're fortunate to live in a high-tech society. Today parents nationwide are taking advantage of technology to monitor and take control of their teen's driving almost as if they are sitting next to their young driver everywhere he or she goes. Special GPS teen trackers now allow the car to be monitored from the Internet 7 x 24. With a teen GPS system, the car can "phone home" when a teen exceeds preset driving limits. In fact, it can call Mom or Dad on their cell phone to report the exact location of the vehicle and the speed at which it's being driven, right now. The teen GPS unit allows you to access weeks of driving history through a secure, password-protected Internet site, showing every inch of driving history including starts, stops, street addresses, speed, times of day and more.

With these tools at your disposal, parents can have a level of control that's not been available until now. Not to mention much greater peace of mind when you hand over the keys to your teen. Our entire mission is to reduce teen driving incidents. With your help, we can achieve that goal together.

See technology and other tools in our Safety Store.




Table 1 - How Parents View "My Teen" vs. "Teens in General"

I am deeply concerned about my teen obeying speed limits.


I am deeply concerned about teens in general obeying speed limits.


I worry that my teen won't use seat beats.


I worry that teens in general won't use seat beats.


I am afraid that my teen may drink and drive.


I am afraid that teens in general may drink and drive.


I worry that my teen may be driving to locations I'd prefer them not to be.


I worry that teens in general may be driving to locations they should not be.


I worry about my teen driving recklessly.


I worry about teens in general driving recklessly.


Average rating for "my teen"


Average rating for "teens in general"


Where 10 = "Completely Agree" and 1 = "Completely Disagree




Table 2 - Rules Parents Establish for Their Teens


% of Responses

Passenger Restrictions


Geographic Restrictions


Time/Curfew Restrictions


Must Call Home on Arrival


Cell Phone Restrictions


Freeway Restrictions


Distractions - No Loud Radio, No Eating While Driving


No Drinking & Driving


Sanctions for Traffic Violations


Restrictions in Adverse Weather


Must Wear Seat Belts


Cannot Drive Until Certain Age


Must Maintain Grades in School


Must Pay for Gasoline


Other - Miscellaneous Rules


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