Help Your Teen Driver Train like an Athlete
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Help Your Teen Driver Train like an Athlete

Help Your Teen Driver Train like an Athlete

Your teen’s time is limited each week. Help them prioritize safety.

Donna Pascente is a marketing consultant at the National Safety Council and a parent of a teen driver.

We’re driving down the road, me in the passenger seat, I look over at my daughter and become flooded with memories. Instead of our Kia, I see her with her hands on the wheel of her pink, electronic Barbie jeep, going 2 mph on the sidewalk instead of 40 on the road home.

In the midst of these memories – and wondering where exactly the time has gone – I also think about what I can do to ensure my daughter’s safety behind the wheel now that the potential consequences are deadly. Every parent wants to make sure their teen is ready for the road, of course, but it’s not always easy to know when they’ve hit that mark. How much practice is enough?

Find the time

In our home state of Illinois, the legal answer is 50 hours. That means I need to supervise my daughter for at least 50 hours behind the wheel – 10 of which must be at night – before she can get her license. That might sound like a lot, the equivalent of driving for nearly two full days straight, but is it?

My daughter is an avid dancer. Your child might be a runner or a basketball player. Maybe your teen puts in extra hours each week to school clubs or works a part-time job. Regardless of the specifics, our kids are passionate and their extra time often gets sucked right into those passions.

When I tried calculating how we’d hit those 50 hours of driving practice, I thought about the time my daughter devotes to dance. With a bit of math, I realized she hits 50 hours of dance practice in just two weeks. In that light, just 50 hours of driving practice seems like entirely too little.

Prioritize safety

Car crashes, after all, are the leading cause of death for teens. If dancing was instead the number one killer of teens, 50 hours every two weeks might seem like the exact right amount of time. But we’re not living in the world of Footloose; in reality, that 50 hours of driving practice is often stretched out over several months, meaning the biggest risk facing our kids is not getting the attention it needs.

Your teen’s time is limited each week, so it is up to us, as parents – the number one influence on our new drivers – to help them prioritize and focus. Here are some ways you can stay involved and keep your teen safe behind the wheel.

  • Keep the passenger seat warm. Fifty hours – or your state’s required number – should be the bare minimum and your practice drives with your teen shouldn’t end just because he or she has gotten a license. Just 30 minutes a week, after licensure, can make a huge difference and help ensure your teen’s driver education continues.
  • Have your teen handle short trips. In addition to the perk of spending extra time together, this will give your teen a chance to experience a variety of road conditions and work on skills like turning left across a multi-lane street. It will also reinforce the idea that safety is crucial even on drives only a few miles long.
  • Keep up the conversation. Never stop talking with your teen about safe driving behaviors and the rules of the road. Discuss the dangers of distracted driving, including texting, eating and reaching for objects, and put your household rules into a contract like the New Driver Deal.
  • Drive the way you want your teen to drive. I can’t tell you the number of times my teen has called me out for something behind the wheel, which makes me realize she is truly becoming a safer driver. But if you want your teen to stick to the rules you set, you must be willing to adopt them yourself and always set a good example.

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