Raising a Safer New Driver: 10 Tips for Nervous Parents
The time between securing your newborn’s car seat into your vehicle and that same teenager buckling their seatbelt in the driver’s seat often seems to pass in the blink of an eye. Teenagers excited by the prospect of the freedom their driver’s license will bring aren’t always thinking big picture, and “distracted” is not what you want them to be behind the wheel.
As a parent, your thoughts are most likely on how to keep them safe and what it’s going to cost to insure the family’s newest driver. Being worried about your child getting behind the wheel isn’t the same as being over-protective; the sad truth is drivers under the age of 25 are statistically over-represented in all kinds of traffic accidents… including fatal ones. Drivers aged 16-24 accounted for just under 12% of all drivers on the road in 2018, but 16.5% of all fatal accidents and just under 18% of all accidents resulting in serious injuries.
Part of the blame lays with inexperience behind the wheel, but not truly understanding some of the consequences of risks they take also plays a part. Given that, here’s what you should consider doing to ensure they’re as safe as possible from the outset.
Honest Discussion About Impaired Driving
Young drivers need to understand all the consequences of impaired driving and parents need to make those crystal clear – zero chances. And even if they’re not behind the wheel talk to your teens about what to do if they suspect their ride is impaired. Let them know you will pick them up, no questions asked, if they feel unsafe. The law in Ontario has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drugs or alcohol for new or novice drivers. They can’t have any of either in their system if they get behind the wheel.
No Distracted Driving
One of the easiest methods of getting this message across is to lead by example. In some parts of Canada, the number of distracted driving fatalities per year is greater than the number of impaired driving fatalities. Despite this fact, far too many drivers still take the risk. Don’t be one of them and you increase the odds your child won’t be either.
Distracted driving is not just about texting. Distracted driving can mean anything from reading a newspaper to eating a sandwich but it frequently involves using a cellphone. According to Statistics Canada, young drivers are particularly susceptible; 45% of 18-to-34-year-old drivers report using a cellphone while driving. Furthermore, a 2020 CAA poll finds 47% of Canadians have programmed a destination on their GPS or mobile device while driving, and a quarter say they’ve noticed an increase in other drivers using their phones while behind the wheel.
Promising not to text or make calls while driving should be a requirement of getting to use the car.
Speeding can have serious consequences, not only in causing accidents, but convictions can lead to demerit points on your driver’s licence, expensive fines, and higher insurance costs. There’s good reason – 27% of fatalities and 19% of serious injuries involve speeding. As well, roughly 40% of speeding drivers stopped by the police in Canada are aged 16-24, and 80% of young adult passengers killed in a car crash were being driven by a similar-aged driver. Talk to your kids about these facts in a straightforward way, and make sure you guide them whenever they drift over the speed limit.
Here’s an interesting idea before tackling the potentially frustrating responsibility of teaching your teen to drive… switch places. Seriously, before taking them out for their first lesson, have them sit in the passenger seat and give you instructions from what they’ve learned about driving.
If they’ve been paying attention, chances are you’re going to be told to: adjust your mirrors; turn on the ignition; pull out of the parking spot; check your blind spots; turn here; stop here; slow down. The idea is it gives you a sense of what they’ll remember to do on their own, but also remind you of how frustrating it can be to be given constant direction behind the wheel. Chances are you’re both a little nervous, so do your best to remain calm when you change places again and your new driver is behind the wheel.
Use Empty Parking Lots
An empty parking lot is a great place for a first driving lesson. Once your teen is more comfortable with the basics, then move it out on to the road. Plan a route before you get started, but if either of you gets too stressed or anxious, cut it short.
Practice in All Road Conditions
If the timing allows, you’ll want to have your first few lessons on clear, sunny days. But eventually, especially in Southwestern Ontario, all drivers need to be able to navigate in less-than-ideal conditions. Lessons need to be conducted in all seasons so your teen gets experience driving in the rain and snow. Make sure they practice at dusk and dawn, so they learn how to deal with extra glare. Busier streets with tight parking spaces and one-way streets are also good things to practice once your young driver has built up some confidence.
Turn It Over To The Pros
It’s definitely a good idea to have your teen take driving lessons, saving you time and minimizing your — and your child’s — stress levels. Professional instructors are trained to teach new drivers and have safety features built into their vehicles, such as extra brakes. There’s also the added bonus of the fact that young driver will qualify for discounted insurance, and will soon cover off the cost of the lessons.
Who’s Going to Pay?
Cars are expensive. Remind your child that driving is a privilege and consider making them responsible for at least some of those costs. Maybe they’ll need to pay their portion of the insurance premium or gas. Even if it’s technically not their vehicle, they may also feel more of a sense of ownership of the car and are likely to take better care of it if financially invested.
If your teen driver only holds a learner’s permit – the type that requires them to have a fully licensed driver with them at all times when driving – you don’t have to list them on your auto insurance policy just yet. You do, however, have to list them once they advance to the licence level that allows them to drive without supervision. In Ontario, this means when they get their G2 licence.
Know Maintenance Basic
Understanding the importance of maintaining a car is a helpful step in becoming a good driver. Teens should learn how to pump gas, refill windshield wiper fluid, check tire pressure, and change a flat tire. Review the owner’s manual for a refresher course on what each dashboard light means.
Go over the steps of what to do and how to stay safe if something goes wrong with the car when they are out on the road, and don’t forget to provide the phone number of your roadside assistance program if you have one.
Accidents Happen. Teach Them What to Do
No one wants to think of collisions happening, but at the same time, statistics show that crash risk is highest during the first few months that teen drivers gets licensed. If your teen gets into an accident, the last thing you want is for them to panic. Teach them to stay calm, check their surroundings, call for help, and gather the information needed (licence and insurance details) from the other drivers involved. It’s important to stress that everyone’s safety is paramount and this is what matter most.