Has your 15-year-old started asking about driving? Are you still waiting for your 17-year-old to ask for the car keys?
Whether a teen should learn to drive is a major question for parents. What are the positives and negatives to your teen learning how to drive? How safe is it for your teen to be driving? How old should your teen be when they start learning how to drive, and how do you teach them? Let’s work through these questions.
Positive facts about teenage driving
The consensus is that teens should learn to drive, and there are many positive facts about teenage driving. These include:
1. Guided experience to learn a necessary skill
Unless your family relies solely on public transportation, your teenager will need to learn how to drive. Aside from preparing them to function as an adult, it will give them more time to learn how to drive versus rushing into it when they turn 18.
2. Greater independence
As teens get older, they start shaking off their dependence on their parents. Using the family car can give them a sense of freedom and the convenience of not relying on others to drive them around.
3. Added responsibility
Teens can also learn responsibility. Driving can teach navigation and time management as they try to get from point A to point B. They can learn financial skills with the knowledge of how much fuel and insurance cost. They can also practice self-control as they navigate among other drivers.
4. Employment and community engagement
Teens who can drive have the opportunity to get a job. Independent driving allows them to set their own work schedule. Teens who need community service hours as part of graduation requirements may find that driving allows more flexibility as they don’t have to consider someone else’s schedule.
For all the benefits, there are some negatives to teens driving. Among them are:
1. Safety risks
The safety of your teen is a major concern. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), teen drivers were involved in more than 1 million police-reported crashes in 2016, resulting in more than 3,200 deaths. Spend time talking with your teen about the dangers of teenage driving, what it means to drive defensively, and how it only takes a split-second decision to change a life.
2. Distractions while driving
Teens can be easily distracted when learning how to drive, be it by eating, having their friends in the car, or texting. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “8 % of drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted,” and “this age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the fatal crashes.”
Talk with your teen about these distractions, especially the dangers of teenage texting and driving. A 2019 survey asked U.S. high school student drivers about their distractions while driving, and 39% of the respondents said they’d sent texts and even emails during the 30 days prior to the survey. Set out guidelines for your teenager and let them know you are serious about having a distraction-free zone in the car.
3. Added expenses to the family budget
Will your teen be using the family car, or will you be buying them one of their own? If the latter, will you expect them to cover a portion of its cost? You’ll also want to look into the increase in your insurance rates. If your teen has a job, how much can they contribute to the added fuel costs?
4. More independence=more challenges
Increased independence can be negative for teens. Talk about the importance of maintaining their schoolwork and continuing to do chores. Also, explain to your teenager that curfew still applies and the possible consequences of failing to show maturity in these areas.
What of the dangers of teenage drinking and driving?
Another area to consider when deciding if your teen should start driving is alcohol use. In 2018, 24% of the drivers aged 15-20 killed in automobile crashes were intoxicated. The legal drinking age in the United States is 21, but statistics show that teens account for 4% of alcohol consumption.
Because teens drink less often, they tend to consume more at one time, a practice known as binge drinking. This inexperience impairs them more seriously than adults when driving, even with the same blood alcohol content.
Talk about the dangers of teenage drinking and driving with your teen. The consequences of letting this happen go way beyond the likelihood of having their car keys taken away-drunk driving may cost them their life.
How old should my teen be when start driving?
According to a study at Yale University, the earlier teens start driving, the more experience they will have. Many states don’t require 18-year-olds to take safety training courses or complete a driver’s course before getting a license. However, statistics show that if teens participate in a graduated driver licensing (GDL) program, they form safer driving habits.
Most GDL programs require that 16-year-olds record a certain number of hours behind the wheel, regulate who’s in the car with them, stipulate at what times to drive, and have restricted use of mobile phones. A GDL program can help your teen build safe driving habits, learn how to avoid distractions, and drive in various conditions.
There really is no right or wrong age at which a teen should learn to drive. My oldest daughter wanted her permit as soon as she turned 15. However, my youngest decided to wait until she was 18. Looking back, they both made the right decision.
How do I teach my teen to drive?
For some, knowing how to teach your teen to drive is more important than when. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Buy a “New Driver” magnet. Seeing this, other drivers will give your teen space on the road.
- Be mindful of teen moods when practicing driving. Try to drive when you and your teen are not stressed, upset, or tired.
- Realize you aren’t used to being the passenger, so “objects in the mirror” will seem a lot closer than they appear. Don’t yell or make startling hand gestures.
- Ask questions. “Do you know the speed limit on this road?” is less critical than “You’ll get a ticket if you don’t slow down.”
- See if you can use the course where your teen will take their exam. Go drive there often so your teen can practice.
- Don’t assume your teen knows the basics of driving. When my oldest daughter started learning to drive, she once called and said the car had just stopped. After asking some questions, I realized the car was out of gas. Adults remember to look at the gas gauge, but teens don’t.
There are a number of things to consider when deciding if your teen should start driving. Each teenager is different, and there is no magic age to begin instruction. Sit down with your teen and go through the positives and negatives, the safety risks, distractions, and expectations. Learning how to drive is a big step for a teenager, so deciding to take that step should be a thoughtfully planned process.
What are the best questions to ask to determine if your teen is ready to drive? How can you best talk with your teen about driving? Share your thoughts in the comments below.