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Preparing your teen driver for a smooth road ahead

This article appears in the Sept./Oct. 2017 issue of Calgary’s Child Magazine.

Ok, admit it. How many times have you slammed the imaginary brake while your teen driver is behind the wheel? Guiding your teen through this new and exciting time can be a little nerve-wracking!

Considering one in every four new drivers will have a collision within their first year of driving, safe driving skills are a worthwhile investment in your teens’ safety and future.

“It’s a whole new set of worries,” says Joanne Metcalfe, mom to Laura and Andrew. Both of her teens got their Learner’s Permit as soon as they turned 14, which gave them a lot of time to practice their skills behind the wheel.

“It was such a progression over the two years, at first driving in the community, then driving a little further and then all of a sudden they’re driving all the time and I’m the one sitting in the backseat,” laughs Metcalfe.

mom standing outside of car with New Driver sign on it

Keep emotions in check

This is perhaps the hardest part. Once your teen starts driving, we need to remember to keep our emotions in check. If you freak out, it’s likely your teen will too…and that can be dangerous for everyone in the vehicle. Try to be calm, patient and encouraging.

“Sometimes parents are quick to yell, or don’t give them help early enough in order to avoid near misses,” says Wayne McLachlan, chief instructor with AMA Driver Education.

Empty parking lots, parks and suburbs are good places to start and avoid peak traffic times – we often head out on Sunday mornings when city streets are still quiet.

Parental coaching vs. driver training

Some parents may feel they can do an adequate job of training their teen driver. The basic rules of the road haven’t changed that much in the last 30 years, but there certainly are more complex roadways, traffic circles, and roundabouts. So, you’ll need to make sure you are up to date with the latest traffic laws. Let’s face it…we can become a little complacent about our own driving habits over time.

That’s why a professional driver training course is strongly recommended by Alberta Transportation. The basic course consists of 15 hours of classroom time (this can also be done online, but I recommend classroom so they can ask questions directly to the instructor) and 10 hours of driving time. Ten hours may sound like a lot, but it’s really not. You should definitely be adding to that time with weekly drives to reinforce what they’re learning from the instructor.

“We’re not just teaching our drivers how to pass a 30-minute test, our training is teaching them how to navigate complex driving situations so they can drive safely, anywhere, for life,” says McLachlan.

Mom throwing vehicle keys to her son and daughter

Metcalfe says her daughter, Laura, did take a course with a local driving school and it was well worth the money.

“It was a confidence thing for both of us, in case we missed something. We didn’t want her picking up our bad habits. I just think you can’t have enough instruction,” says mom.

These basic courses start at about $700, but course completion qualifies your teen for a 10-40% discount on your insurance premiums for three years. In most cases, that will cover the entire cost of the course.

Key trouble spots for teen drivers

According to McLachlan, some of the key things new drivers struggle with are roundabouts, lane changes, and spatial awareness; they often misjudge how much room they need when passing, driving in tight spaces or parking. But, the number one cause of collisions in Alberta is following too closely.

“Because they’re inexperienced, they’re not sure what they’re looking for. So, they’re coached to identify key traffic situations such as pedestrians, residential areas, intersections and ground scanning for kids,” he says.

Talk about the dangers of distracted driving

We all know our teens are virtually attached to their phones, so remind them to turn phones off and put them out of reach. In Alberta, a distracted driving fine is $287 and results in three demerit points, or strikes, against their license. A new probationary driver only has eight to begin with. Distractions include cell phones, a GPS device, the radio and personal grooming.

“You are 23 times more likely to have a collision if there are distractions, like a cell phone, in the vehicle,” says McLachlan. “And we really don’t encourage hands-free because it takes your mind off the task.” Earlier this summer, I wrote about Cell Slip, a handy little pocket that holds your phone and blocks cell signals while you’re driving.

It’s also a good idea for parents to touch on some very practical aspects of operating a vehicle: how to check the tire pressure, oil and coolant levels and even learn how to change a flat tire. Who’s paying for the gas, the cost of a ticket and who cleans the vehicle?

Son and daughter looking under the hood

Laura and Andrew both know how to change a tire

Teens should earn privileges gradually

While it’s been challenging to let go, Metcalfe says it’s also been fun to watch her teens embrace this new found independence.

Laura has shown a lot of responsibility with the vehicle and gradually her parents have allowed her to venture farther away and out with friends. She also drives on the highway back and forth to hockey practice.

“Laura is really good about texting us that she’s about to leave and on her way home,” says mom, who insists on regular communication. As parents, it’s important to establish clear rules and limits on the vehicle and consequences if these rules are broken.

“Just because your teen has their GDL Class 5 license doesn’t mean that parents have lost control,” says McLachlan. “Have parameters, you might tell your teen to be home at 11 pm, but the car needs to be in the driveway by 10 pm.”

And, hopefully, it doesn’t come to this…but if you are seriously concerned about your teen’s driving (too many accidents or tickets), you can have their license legally revoked.

A few final tips to leave you with:

  • start with the Driver’s Guide – the PDF document is available for download here
  • your teen may enjoy studying with flash cards (available at AMA) and taking online practice exams
  • purchase a yellow Student Driver sign at the registry; I find it makes other drivers more patient and understanding when your teen is behind the wheel
  • consider a parent-teen driving contract available here
  • receive weekly emails from a digital driving coach at www.driveithome.org

If you found this post helpful, please share with your friends. And let me know what it’s like for you to have a teen driver in the house!

Michelle
 

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