Your Kid Behind the Wheel!
By David W. Crump
My insurance customers and my three sons have given me some insight on the best strategies for helping your new driver succeed.
Learning to drive is the human parallel of a young bird learning to fly. The first couple flight attempts can be harrowing but there is no avoiding it. As a parent, it is important that these first flights happen while you are there for guidance. You want your child to have the maturity to handle the new skill and responsibility yet it is also important that these first “flights” happen while you still have parental authority to step in and control the situation.
Another important role for you as the parent is to help your teenager through his first mis-steps. For my oldest son, he lost control on a slick road and spun his car’s backend into a tree on his first solo drive to school. My youngest son was involved in a horrific accident when another driver clipped his car causing him to spin across two lanes of freeway (I-35 near Buda). In both cases, the autos, while damaged, stayed on the road and with parent support the new drivers did too.
Providing the right auto is critical for the first year of driving. One of my clients taught the most important lesson on selecting an auto for a new driver: Safety. She purchased a second new Ford Focus after her daughter totaled the first one after driving for only a couple months. When I asked her why she spent this money, she said it was worth every penny because the first auto had saved her daughter’s life with its superior crash protection. A modern vehicle equipped with current safety features is important. The old family clunker, too old to have airbags and modern crumple zones, is not the right choice.
Another client, a sports car enthusiast, selected a large motored sports car for his son’s first auto. Within the first month of driving solo, the son mis-judged the power, accelerated rapidly and flipped the auto. A sports car doesn’t make sense for a new driver. It is much better to select a first auto with mid-range performance that helps a new driver rather than over extending their abilities or tempt them to drive aggressively.
A high-profile SUV or pickup can be a roll-over or spin-out risk for a new driver. Good tires with plenty of tread are also an important feature to provide for a new driver. Your new driver has much less experience in grappling with emergency maneuvering or driving on slick roads. You want to select a vehicle that will help your new driver handle this huge new skill. A traditional sedan or modest cross-over style vehicle will be a better choice.
Dependability is another important criteria. You don’t want your son or daughter stranded when the vehicle breaks down or won’t start. If you are using an older “passed-down” vehicle, be sure it has been checked by your favorite mechanic and has a new battery.
Road to Success
For some reason, the state authorities think it takes only seven hours of driver training to learn how to drive. I grant you, the learning how to operate the vehicle can be mastered in that short training window but the hard part of driving is grappling with traffic and unexpected situations.
We have a very intense mix of “big city” traffic situations in Austin. Picture shown on left is normal rush hour traffic on I-35. I would suggest it can take a year of driving to learn how to handle the sudden and unexpected events that a driver must manage in heavy traffic. This is not just kids – adult drivers, new to our area, have a tough learning curve, too. Be sure that your new driver has had practice with you in city traffic and knows our freeway system. Helping your new driver become familiar with the roadways that they often will travel improves their safety.
Rural driving has a whole additional set of challenges for new drivers. I made each of my sons prove that they could judge passing on a two lane ranch road (my favorite practice road was FM 967 from Buda to Driftwood). The Central Texas rural areas has an over abundance of deer that wander on to our rural roads particularly in the early evening that present significant hazard to all drivers. Low water crossings are another unexpected hazard that all area drivers should understand and new drivers often are not aware of.
Commercial driving schools are productive but don’t take the place of you and your child practicing together for an extended period of time. Consider a driving school program to be a supplement to your efforts and not a replacement of your hands-on training of your new driver.
The Distracted Driver
A distracted driver is unsafe at any age or experience level. Smart phones provide a new hazard for drivers, particularly teenagers. It is unrealistic to expect to check your Facebook page, text your friends or have a cell phone conversation while controlling an automobile. Human beings are just not wired to handle this overload. Some authorities put the distraction of texting while driving at the same level of being drunk behind the wheel. As a parent of a new teenage driver, help keep them safe with ground rules of driving without using their smart phone. Stop to talk or text – no conversation is worth an accident.
A carload of friends, snacks from the drive-thru and the latest CD can also distract new drivers and lead to driving mistakes. The more your new driver is juggling, the less he or she is paying attention to the road situation. In our world of multitasking, you need to convey to your newbie driver the importance of doing only one thing when behind the wheel … and that is to drive.
The seat-belt is a critical safety appliance for auto travel. As a parent, you want to set a good example and require wearing seat-belts for all car occupants when you are the driver. You want to be sure that your new driver understands that it is critical and both buckles up as the driver and requires that any passengers are also properly secured before travel. The risk of serious injury in the event of an auto accident is substantially reduced if all occupants are restrained.
Believe it or not, most new drivers are successful and become safe drivers. This includes my three sons. All of them now are getting prefer rates as safe drivers. The first couple flights will be harrowing but your new driver will be successful with smart choices and effort.