Photo By: Courtesy of Gary Anderson
So your 15-year-old is prepared to undertake the California Graduated Drivers License Program (GDLP) in order to be able to drive without waiting for his or her 18th birthday.
On one hand, that’s a good thing. It means that you as a parent will take an active hand in the driver training, so when your teen is finally licensed to drive alone, you’ll feel comfortable in knowing firsthand how well he or she is able to drive.
On the other hand, it also means that you and your teen will be forced to occupy the same space and do the same thing together for a period of 50 hours. For many, this is probably the last thing that a teen or parent would put on a wish list!
Helping your teens learn to drive in a safe and responsible manner is one of the most important things you can do for them at this stage in their lives. And here is why: Driving accidents – either as driver or as passenger in a teen-driven automobile – are the No. 1 cause of death for teens, and teens are four times as likely to have an auto accident per mile driven than all other drivers.
This isn’t because teens are careless, willful or unskilled. According to studies, it is because the part of the brain that thinks in terms of actions and consequences simply does not completely develop until after the teenage years.
But in today’s busy world, it’s difficult to function without driving, and the unconscious, automatic reactions required for good driving only come with practice.
Below are five tips culled from literature and experience to make the time with your teen as effective and pleasant as possible – for both of you.
1. Make this a combined learning experience.
The Mercedes-Benz Club of America teaches a program called Safe Drivers, Safe Families, because the organizers believe that safe driving is a family affair. Make it a point to read everything your teen is reading about safe driving practices and also take the online courses yourself. Allow your teen to correct your driving when you’re behind the wheel. If you go into the experience to find what you can learn about refreshing your own driving skills and knowledge, then both you and your teen will benefit.
2. Be calm and positive at all times.
Now is the time to cultivate your best Sully Sullenberger/Chuck Yeager manner. When your teen is at the wheel, point out key things in a quiet, informative and nonjudgmental manner. For example, say “The traffic is slowing up ahead” rather than “Why are you going so fast? Are you crazy? Slow down.” Whether it’s you or your teen driving, try turning the driving session into a game to see who can spot a possible problem situation first. Save the debate about the correct interpretation of rules and techniques for the living room, not inside a moving car.
3. Emphasize and practice focusing on driving.
We all know that cellphone use is diverting, but we also need to remember that even music, a radio talk show or a conversation with someone else in the vehicle or on a hands-free phone distracts us from driving and slows our reaction time. Remind your teen that when he or she is involved in a video game, it requires single-minded attention. Driving is just as complicated as any 360-degree, first-person action game – the only difference is that there isn’t a reset button when things go wrong, and real people may be injured, or worse.
4. The secret to good driving is to look ahead, think ahead and plan ahead.
If there is one fundamental principle that needs to be learned and remembered, it is that everything happens quickly. Even at 25 mph and at highway speeds, things happen almost instantaneously. The only way to compensate is to look as far ahead, around and behind you as possible when driving, to think about what is going on before you get to the problem or it gets to you, and plan and prepare in advance what you can do if it does occur.
5. Get your teen the best training you can.
The basic driving programs on city streets with a paid instructor are a good way to satisfy a portion of the requirements of the GDLP, but they don’t provide real experience in car control or offer the feeling of panic braking from 60 mph, or making a rapid, forced lane change to avoid an obstacle. These experiences must be taught by and practiced with an experienced instructor in a controlled off-street setting.
Fortunately, many organizations teach one-day driving skills courses on auto racetracks in Monterey, Sonoma, north of Sacramento and at local venues like Candlestick Park. Our favorite is an inexpensive professionally run program called Hooked-on Driving at www.hookedondriving.com.
Several local car clubs – including the BMW Car Club and the Porsche Club – periodically sponsor teen driving courses open to members and nonmembers. The racing schools at Sonoma Raceway Park and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca offer defensive driving programs for teens and their parents. These courses can be one of the best investments you will ever make to protect your most precious asset: your child.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services. n