Teens Behind the Wheel

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths in the U.S., so it’s no wonder that parents feel some anxiety when they think about their child getting behind the wheel. The good news is, when safe driving habits are instilled from the get-go, both parents and teens can have confidence and peace of mind knowing they have learned the skills early on that will help them to become safe and capable drivers.


Sharon Fife, president of D&D Driving School in Dayton, recommends teens start the classroom phase of driver’s education before they get their temporary permit.

“This will give them a good foundation before they start driving with an instructor and a parent,” Fife says. “If a parent chooses to practice with their child before the driving instruction, I would pick a large parking lot to practice starting, stopping, figure 8s and basic car maneuvers.”

Tina Paff, owner and president of Bick’s Driving School in Cincinnati, agrees it is good to begin practicing in wide-open spaces, such as parking lots. She also suggests lots of training along with driving-school training.

So, when should parents start talking about, or practicing, driving with their children? The sooner, the better. Parents also need to lead by example and demonstrate what it looks like to be a good driver. Paff suggests that parents point out things they see drivers doing wrong as they happen in front of them.

“The best thing a parent can do is be a positive role model and drive like they want their children to drive,” Fife says. “This means no phones, no reckless driving, no distracted driving. Children are watching their parents drive every time they’re in the car with them.”

So what can parents do to help their child once the car is in motion? First off, remaining calm and being patient goes a long way.

“Patience is the key to all of this,” Paff says. “You can develop a great learning experience with your teen as long as you are patient. Stay as calm as possible. Try not to yell or gasp if your student makes mistakes. This can cause increased anxiety. It’s better to pull them over in a safe area, and then review how it could be handled differently. Also, remember the driving school is not 100% responsible for the skills of the new driver. We are here to teach, implement the driving laws, teach them how to pass the drivers exam at the BMV — but ultimately, the parents are responsible for their son or daughter’s performance. Every 16 year old isn’t necessarily ready to drive, as well. Some teens need some extra time, or even years, before they are ready to drive.”

In addition to remaining calm and being patient, here are some tips Fife offers parents:

* Have your student talk about what they are seeing and doing. For example, “There’s a green light up ahead; I’m going to go through the light.” Verbally discussing the decisions helps the student practice the decision-making process, which is the hardest part of learning how to drive.

* Practice turns in a subdivision with low or no curbs and few parked cars.

* When driving in traffic, begin with driving straight, and then gradually start with right turns, and then progress to harder maneuvers.

Imagining your child behind the wheel may be a bit nerve wracking, but with the right preparation, you can be confident that your teen will be ready to go.  And you can rest knowing everyone on the road will be safer because you have put in the time and energy necessary to give your child the skills and knowledge they need to become successful drivers.

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