Very soon my second teenage daughter will be behind the wheel. (Gasp!) Recently, a friend who has a daughter enrolled in the classroom portion of driver’s education asked some of us more experienced parents how we prepared ourselves and our teens for the responsibility of driving. Here are some helpful tips:
1. Make a contract to emphasize driving is a privilege, not a right. Use the parent-teen driving contract found on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation website. The contract covers rules and expectations such as “not driving or riding in a car with anyone who has used any ‘substance’ including medications that may impair driving.” The contract also spells out the consequence if a rule is broken.
2. Practice, practice, practice. Provide your teen with as much behind-the-wheel time as possible. Start out in a large, empty parking lot and gradually increase driving distances, road speeds and number of lanes. Be sure they experience various road conditions (rain, snow, ice, etc.), and different levels of traffic congestion before they drive without you in the car.
3. Brush up on Wisconsin state law for a graduated driver’s license. This affects teens between 15-½ and 18 years old. Review these frequently asked questions to learn more.
4. Teach responsibility. Will your teen pay for his or her gas or share the cost of car insurance? Show your teen how much it costs to operate a car, including monthly payments and maintenance, like new tires and brakes.
5. Seatbelt use is mandatory. No exceptions for driver or passengers. It’s the law in Wisconsin.
6. Phones and other electronic devices are turned off while driving. Calls or texts are made after your teen arrives at his or her destination. It’s also important for parents to be good role models and not use cellphones while driving.
7. No teenage passengers and no riding with other teens. This is a difficult rule to enforce and your comfort with this rule is largely dependent on how much you trust your teenager and his or her friends. Some parents allow a friend in the car only if their teen is driving to and from school or work during daylight hours. According to Wisconsin DOT statistics, nearly 2 out of 3 passengers ages 16 to 19 who died or were seriously injured in a crash were in vehicles driven by another teen.
8. Assess maturity level. It’s OK to delay your teen from getting a license if you don’t feel he or she is mature enough to handle the responsibility. Even a year can make a big difference.
9. Check additional insurance costs. Can your family budget handle the added cost of a teen driver? Many insurers provide discounted rates for good students so check with your agent. Depending on the child, you also may consider making good grades a condition for driving.
10. Choose a safe, reliable car for your teen to drive. Make sure they know how to operate all buttons and knobs on the dashboard, check the mirrors and adjust the seat before they go out on the road.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin offers a teen driving safety outreach program to help instill a sense of driver responsibility in teen drivers across the state. Visit Crossroads to learn more.
– Rose Fochs, community relations coordinator, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in the Fox Valley
Rosann Fochs works as the community relations and volunteer coordinator at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Neenah, Wis. Our hospital in Neenah has a 20-bed pediatric unit, 22-bed neonatal intensive care unit and an outpatient clinic offering specialties from cardiology to urology.