Safe Driving Tips You Can Teach to Teens
parents of teenagers have been approaching each day's news with the cold fear
that they'll find yet another story about a teenage driving fatality.
such story was about Alejandro Melendez, 17, of Commerce City, Colorado who was drag racing down Interstate 25 on Feb. 27 when his 1996 Mitsubishi Eclipse
spun out of control and rolled. Melendez was thrown from the car, and then run
over. His was the third drag-racing death in the metro area since October.
response to stories of such horrible accidents, Colorado legislature
has been wrestling with various measures to prevent teen fatalities. The real
power is in the hands of parents, who can do a lot more than hope and pray that
their child won't be next.
who know what's going on in their teens' lives and actively and effectively monitor their behavior
can significantly increase their children's odds of survival.
we do need more laws to govern drivers," says psychologist Charles Fay of
Denver's Love and Logic Institute. "But you can't legislate common sense.
It's up to parents to raise responsible kids from the start."
process should begin in early childhood, when children need to learn to make choices
and live with their consequences, Fay says.
remember talking to a school superintendent who had lost two teenage daughters
in one accident," Fay said. "He was reflecting on what kind of parent
he had been, and he said he hadn't let the girls make enough decisions when they
most adults, drag racing exemplifies a risky and irresponsible choice. But inexperienced
teens aren't good at assessing risk. That's the focus of a program being developed
by the National Institutes of Health to help parents limit the riskiest aspects
of driving until teens have time to develop their skills.
Checkpoints program, which is being tested in Maryland and Connecticut, teaches
parents how to limit their children's driving in bad weather, at night, with teen
passengers and on high-speed roads. If tests show that the program prevents teen
driving fatalities, it might be expanded nationally.
Hartos helped develop Checkpoints as a researcher at the National Institute of
Child Health and Human Development. Hartos now is an assistant professor in the
department of health behavior and administration at the University of North Carolina,
initially found that parents didn't want to limit their child's driving, because
they thought it showed a lack of trust," Hartos said. "But that's not
the point. Parents need to realize that even good, responsible kids start out
as inexperienced drivers.
program encourages parents to let teens gain as much experience as possible under
low-risk conditions before allowing them to go out under higher-risk conditions."
not about trust. It's about safety."
we asked readers to share their methods for turning teens into safe drivers, they
responded with passion and enthusiasm. We were able to use only a small portion
of the responses we received. Here are some of the most creative suggestions:
to teach driving
parking lots were the venue of choice for teaching children the rudiments of handling
a car. Several parents suggested going back to the parking lot on an icy and snowy
day to teach the teen how to control a skid.
For their first few times behind the wheel, I take teen drivers to Fairmount Cemetery,
where the speed limit is 20 mph, and tell them that if they exceed that, the session
will be over. There are places to practice backing up, head-in and parallel parking,
stop signs and dealing with an occasional oncoming driver. As the fledgling driver
is practicing staying on the right side of the street and making right and left
turns, I point out that we are passing the final resting places of those who drove
too fast or recklessly.
I took them to a housing development under construction that had paved roads,
houses and fireplugs, but few cars. This gave them practical experience in a real
of the road
most common rule laid down by readers was a ban on teen passengers for the first
six months. Few mentioned a requirement that teens buckle their seat belts, although
Colorado law-enforcement officials say that of the 106 drivers and passengers
from ages 16 to 20 who died in traffic crashes in 2002, 82, or 77 percent, were
not buckled up.
We are strict about knowing in whose cars our kids will be passengers, the driver's
record, experience, training and the vehicle driven. Recently, my freshman son
and two of his friends were planning to ride home from sports practice with a
16-year-old driver. I said no because the route was on Parker Road during rush
hour, it would be after dark, there would be at least four teens in the car and
a snowstorm was expected. Plus, I didn't know the teen driver and his record,
just that he's 16 and a new driver. It didn't make me the most popular mom of
the week, but I drove down to pick up my son and his two friends.
Driving privileges are suspended unless the teen maintains at least a "B"
average and receives no moving violations. No cell phones while driving. No eating
while driving. Obey curfews.
We told our three teenagers that the driver is responsible for control of the
car and for the behavior of everyone in it. If a passenger does something stupid
(water balloons, gang signs, mooning, out-of-control conduct), it is the driver's
responsibility to control or defuse the situation, or pull over and let the culprit
requires teens on a learner's permit to log 50 hours of driving with a parent
or a licensed driving instructor to qualify for a driver's license. Here's how
some readers used those hours.
For several months before and after children get a learner's permit, the adult
driver should randomly ask the child what the speed limit is wherever they are
traveling. While the adult is driving, block the speedometer from view and ask
the child to guess what speed the car is traveling.
Our son is not allowed to drive anywhere on his own until we clear him for those
conditions. First we cleared him on drives across town, then driving on (U.S.)
36 and in Boulder, then driving in ice and snow. He has practiced driving in downtown
Denver and on Interstate 70 in heavy traffic, but we have not yet cleared him
to tackle those alone.
My husband works at Craig and Swedish hospitals and sees the worst results from
car accidents. Our teens have done community-service work at the hospitals, where
they learned a respect for automobiles and how powerful they are. Seeing
teens who have sustained lifelong injuries in car accidents made a big impression.
Besides being aware of their surroundings, I taught my two sons to always plan
on other drivers' doing the wrong thing. If they don't, there is no problem; if
they do, you're ahead of the game.
Evans, Wheat Ridge
Have the teen drive every possible time he gets into the car with you or your
spouse. We had our son drive to and from Eagle for breakfast one Sunday on I-70.
Later we did trips during heavier traffic periods. Take them downtown, into neighborhoods,
into other towns, on rural roads and mountain roads. Have them drive in snow,
rain, wind, gravel and mud.
Part of it is that they had newspaper routes. They learned to ride their bikes in traffic, observe rules and drive defensively.
I took my teenage daughter to a junkyard when she first received her learner's
permit. We looked at all the twisted, smashed, broken automobiles that had been
in serious accidents. She had assumed the steel fortress would protect her
under any circumstances. It sounds crude, but seeing bloodstains, particularly
around the driver area, made a major impact. It made her very, very cautious,
and she drives that way today, many years later.
best way to kill your teenager is to make driving free," says Charles Fay.
"Kids are much more afraid of financial loss than they are of death."
The approach my husband and I took with driving was that it is not a right but
a privilege coupled with great responsibility. Our daughters were told from the
beginning that they would have to pay their own car insurance.
We lent each of our sons the money to buy a used car. Since both had part-time
jobs, we asked for small payments each month until the loans were down to $500.
If they drove for one year, no tickets, no accidents and no complaints from neighbors
or school, we would consider the loan fully paid. Both earned the $500.
We required that our kids have the amount of our insurance deductible in a savings
account prior to driving one of our cars alone. We believed they needed to understand
that driving is a commitment to responsibility and can be revoked by the parent.
these readers seem to be talking about driving, what they're really talking about
is their responsibility to put limits on their children and be involved in their
If they ever felt they couldn't drive safely home - mainly due to weather or time
or exhaustion (both were in sports at the high school) - they just had to call
and we would come and get them.
My wife and I taught eight teenagers how to drive. We always discussed accidents
when we saw one or read about one and commented on unsafe driving habits if we
with permission of the Rocky