Getting to drive
Taking the car out for a spin alone usually ranks high on teens' wish list of firsts. It's almost a rite of passage — getting the restricted license, then the driver's license, and finally the day arrives when you let your daughter take the car to the convenience store all by herself. I can remember when my children began to drive, they seemed to have a newfound need for quick trips to the store to grab some binders for school, to visit a friend that just couldn't wait until the next day, or an offer to pick up fast food or anything that we needed at home. After the novelty of driving wore off, though, it seemed like pulling teeth to blast them out the door to run some errands!
Hopefully your child has logged many, many hours of driving with you, perhaps completed a driver's education course at school or taken private lessons. Nothing — and I repeat — nothing, is as frightening as putting a 16- or 17-year-old behind the wheel, alone, for the first time. How can you make it more comfortable for everyone? Begin by taking baby steps and setting limits. Allow the teen to drive only during daylight hours initially, and then only after you feel that they have had sufficient experience will you let them drive in the evening. Check your community's teen driving curfews carefully — most allow them to drive alone during the first year until 11 p.m. or so. Also, restrict the number of people that they can have in the car. Initially you might want to make the rule that they must drive alone so as not to be distracted, and can pick up friends only after they've had sufficient experience. Continue to ride, as a passenger, with your teen to evaluate if they tend to tailgate, speed or are inattentive to the rules of the road. You should request that cell phone usage not be allowed at first, and you might even want the radio turned off to lessen distractions. Trust me, they'll agree to anything, at first, if it means that they can get behind the wheel of a car! And, you also might want them to check out the American Auto Association's website — its chock full of suggestions for teen drivers and safety.
To help determine if your child is ready to begin driving, consider these issues:
- The child had to be showing adequate initiative, judgment and responsibility in major life areas in order to take the learner's permit examination. This includes working to their potential in school, general politeness (let's not get too carried away here!), none or very few behavioral problems at school, and a history of using decent age-appropriate judgment and honesty. Impulsivity, sneakiness and lying negate any discussion of attaining driving privileges. In other words, if you couldn't trust their behavior in your home, how are they to be trusted behind the wheel of a car?
- Agreement to engage in either a school-based driver's education class or one obtained privately. Since I'm a bit on the "you can never be too careful side," my own kids took the school-based and the private driving courses. And, they had to chip in some cold cash to help defer the cost of the private lessons. (This also seemed to motivate their attention to Mario, the driving teacher, as their money was involved in his payment.)
- Agreement that plenty of practice driving was necessary within the year between receiving the learner's permit and earning the actual license, and that an adequate level of driving skill, knowledge and reflexes would be necessary.
- Realization that just because the above conditions were met, that continued good judgment, grades and decent behavior would be necessary to be granted the privilege of taking the actual driving exam, leading to the "real license."
- Understanding that earning a license in no way would mean instant access to a car. Begin by allowing each child to drive your car after school to run short errands, and gradually lengthen the amount of time as your comfort level increases. Every state has clear times of day and/or night, as well as curfews, when teens of varying ages are allowed to drive. In addition, teens in certain states have to be students enrolled in school as well as having achieved a certain grade point average to even apply for the license if under the age of 18 years.
- Acceptance of your driving rules: No friends in the car for the first two months. None, nada, don't even think about it. Following that time period, a friend might be allowed to drive with your child but you would need to be told who was going to be picked up, where they were going and would expect a phone call when they arrived. Cell phone usage while driving, although legal in many states, should be nixed except to call home or to answer your calls to them. If any fudging occurs (child is supposed to be at friend's house but they were actually cruising the beach) then driving privileges would be curtailed.
- Any usage of substances (liquor, marijuana, or other drugs) while driving or at any other time means loss of the driver's license. The car is a huge responsibility and a privilege — it is also a weapon when poor judgment, distraction by friends and loud music, or usage of substances are in the picture or in their lives.
- Recognition that they will be expected to contribute a reasonable amount of money toward insurance payments. The amount would vary with the school and work load, but part of this responsibility would be on their shoulders.
- Having free access to their own car is not a given. This will depend upon family finances, the teen's needs and whether they basically deserved one or not. An additional car in the family is a huge expense that is not to be taken lightly. Too many kids expect, and receive, a vehicle on their 16th birthday as if it is a rite of passage. It's not — it is to be earned by doing a good job during adolescence. That includes working hard at school, at a part-time job after school or on the weekends, involvement in clubs or sports, and showing a general respect for the family as a unit.