Give Your Teen More Driving Time
Few scenarios strike more fear in the hearts of parents than the combination of their teenager, the kid's friends, and the family car. The statistics are enough to make you reach for your Xanax. Car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for teens: Every year, crashes kill nearly 6,000 teens and injure 300,000 more. Drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash. And the risk of an accident is especially high during the first year that teens get their licenses.
But there is at least one potential remedy. The more time teens spend learning to drive, the less likely they are to turn cars into lethal weapons. "We all know that practice makes for better drivers, especially among young drivers," says Robert Foss of the Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Thus, nearly every state has implemented graduated licensing laws to phase in more driving privileges as teens acquire more experience. But many experts say states don't require enough.
So here are some ways to give teens more drive time:
Go beyond giving your teen the wheel when you are running routine errands together. Vary the driving conditions and destinations by complexity, from day to night, good weather to rain and snow, empty roads to crowded, high-speed highways. "Ease your teen into situations where they have to react and judge other people's speed and behavior," says Anne McCartt of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Take advantage of those college road trips. Many parents allow their teens to practice for hours when they are driving to distant colleges. But first check that your teen's driving permit is legal in the state you are visiting.
Have your teen check out various interactive, teen-friendly driving websites such as Ford Motor Co.'s drivingskillsforlife.com and Teendriving.com.
If you think your state's requirement for certified driving hours with an adult is too low, set your own family requirement. Then make time in your schedule to practice with your teen.
Think twice before signing up your teen for performance driving schools-training programs for emergency maneuvers offered by virtually every auto company. As helpful as they might seem, traffic safety experts say that these schools may be harmful. "There's absolutely no research that shows these programs are effective," says Justin McNaull of AAA. Foss of UNC's safety research center agrees: "Four hours on a Saturday morning once will give you nothing-not enough time to learn a new skill, or enough time to practice how to react in an emergency-and worse, for teens, especially young males, is that it contributes to overconfidence." You want your teens to get experience; attitude they have enough of already.
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.