It seems like your teenager is barely out of childhood, and yet soon the law will allow her to operate a potentially deadly motor vehicle, not to mention all the independence that comes with it. As a parent, this might be as scary for you as it is exciting for your kid. There are good reasons to be concerned, and turning 16 doesn't automatically mean that a teen is ready to handle the responsibilities involved. So, when are teens ready to drive?
Naturally, every teen is different, and at legal driving age, one teen might be the super-careful, curfew-meeting driver of your dreams while another might abuse his new-found freedom. Driving is a privilege, and until the age of 18 it's up to parents to decide whether their particular teens are ready to get behind the wheel. Here's a guide to making that call.
Ask yourself some questions about your teen's maturity level.
Your son or daughter may believe that, as soon as that crucial birthday comes along, it's automatically their right to drive. It may seem unfair when you judge their potential driving competence on other factors, but there are crucial signs that your teen may not be ready to drive. Consider these questions about your teen's behavior; you may want to at least put your child on a 'driving probation period' wherein the right to drive must be earned.
Does your teen make consistently poor judgment calls? Teenagers are still getting familiar with the ins and outs of decision-making, and even teens that are mature for their age will occasionally make the wrong choice. But a repeated pattern of poor judgment, like participating in unsafe activities, getting into trouble at school or binge drinking at parties, should be a big warning sign.
Are your household rules regarded as mere 'suggestions?' You tell your daughter to be home at 10, but she shows up at 10:45. You stress that your son shouldn't have friends over while you're out of town, but he decides to throw a party. If your teen treats your authority in such a casual way, he or she may view speed limits, traffic laws, seat belts and blood alcohol limits as suggestions, too.
Is your teen particularly susceptible to peer pressure? The need to fit in with friends affects nearly every teenager, but for some, it's taken to an unhealthy extreme. Teens that give in too easily to the demands of their peers, or make poor decisions to impress their friends, may engage in risky behavior like speeding or drinking and driving.
Has he or she demonstrated a good level of responsibility? If your teenager is helpful around the house, works hard at school and maintains a job - whether it's working at a fast food restaurant or just mowing the lawn every week - there's good reason to believe that he'll treat driving in much the same way.
Talk to your teen about the dangers and responsibilities of driving.
Teenagers are more likely than adults to engage in risky driving behaviors like excessive speeding and texting while behind the wheel. Driving comes with real dangers, and according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash. Risks are especially high among male drivers ages 15 to 19, and among drivers that have been licensed within the past year.
Talk to your teen about the factors that put them at risk of deadly accidents including following other vehicles too closely, failing to wear seat belts and drinking alcohol before driving. You can learn more about these risk factors at the CDC's Guide to Teen Driving.
Arrange a driver's education course.
Thorough training is a parent's first line of defense in ensuring that their teen is safe behind the wheel. The best way to feel confident in your teen's readiness to drive is to practice as often as possible. If you're familiar with your state's laws and a patient teacher, you can direct these practice sessions yourself, or you may want to enroll your teen in a driver's education course.
Many states have Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws, which mandate extended periods of supervised driving and restrictions on driving before a full driver's license can be acquired. Even if your state doesn't have these laws, you can institute such a schedule yourself, requiring that your teen completes a certain number of hours driving with a parent in the vehicle before they can strike out on their own.
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