There is good reason to be nervous when your teenager learns to drive.
The crash rate for 16- to 19-year-olds per mile driven is four times the risk for drivers 20 and older, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Those numbers explain why car insurance rates are so high for teens.
Fortunately, you can help your child stay safe during those first few years of driving. Following are seven ways to keep a teen crash-free:
Look for a driving school that includes hands-on training with experienced, certified instructors, even if your state doesn't require behind-the-wheel instruction. Inexperience is one of the main reasons teens are risky drivers.
New drivers haven't developed the skill to scan the road and anticipate danger. They tend to keep their eyes glued on the car in front and assume that as long as they obey traffic rules, everyone else will, too.
"The real key to being crash-free drivers is the use of our eyes," says Hale Gammill, director of driving school operations in southern California for DriversEd.com and a past executive director of The Driving School Association of the Americas.
Teens also haven't had experience with how vehicles handle different situations -- how fast a car comes to a stop on wet pavement or how far it swerves when its steering wheel is turned suddenly.
Such skills have become so instinctive for adults that they may not even be aware of them, or able to explain and demonstrate them to a teen.
Good driving instructors teach teens what to look for and how to react.
New drivers need plenty of practice. The crash rate for 16-year-olds is twice as high as that for 18- and 19-year-olds, according to the IIHS.Spend as much time as you can accompanying your teens as they learn to drive, exposing them to different conditions.
"We know the more time these kids have behind the wheel, the better off they are," Gammill says.
California, for instance, requires 50 hours of practice for teens before they can be licensed. Gammill recommends at least 100 hours.
It won't do any good to tell teens not to text and drive if you do it. So, avoid checking messages and chatting on your smartphone while driving your kids to school.
Maria Wojtczak and her husband, Richard, founded DrivingMBA, a driving school in Scottsdale, Ariz., after nine students from their local school district died in car wrecks in 2002 and 2003.
"We often have to work with teens to break habits they've picked up from Mom and Dad," Maria Wojtczak says. "Parents need to look at their own driving behavior."
Don't take a timid new driver onto a congested, four-lane avenue the first time out. Start in empty parking lots and quiet residential streets and work your way up, Gammill says.
Your teen will feel less scared and overwhelmed and you'll feel more comfortable, too.
"If it's like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, then the next time your son or daughter wants to go practicing, you're not going to be up for it," Gammill says.
Parents and teens may not be on the same page even after talking about driving expectations, limits and penalties. A parent-teen written agreement prevents confusion and sets clear guidelines.
Parent-teen driving contracts are available through insurance companies, AAA, Centers for Disease Control and some state departments of motor vehicles The contracts outline expectations for both teens and their parents.
Such documents may include rules about wearing seat belts, obeying traffic rules and - for parents - providing respectful and constructive feedback on driving skills.
Once you've set the limits, enforce them with consequences. Continue to monitor driving privileges and behavior after teens receive their licenses, says Randy Bleicher, chief instructor for the Ford Driving Skills for Life, which conducts clinics throughout the country, and a former race car driver and instructor with the Bob Bondurant High Performance Driving School, in Phoenix, Ariz.
"Don't just throw them the keys," Bleicher says. "Know where they're going, what they're doing, and limit the number of friends in the car."
Straight-A students don't necessarily pick up driving skills faster than their peers. In fact, Wojtczak says, high achievers initially may drive with a perfectionist, overly analytical approach that doesn't translate well to the roads.
Just like other kids, your gifted daughter will need good instruction and plenty of practice.
Ride along with teens the first time they venture somewhere new, even if they already have their licenses. Make sure your teen has traveled a similar road before letting him or her drive that route alone.
Car wrecks are the leading cause of death for teenagers, accounting for one-third of all deaths of 16- to 19-year-olds, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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