Going Down The Road

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By Angela Switzer

We’re off again, transporting our precious cargo to school, extracurricular activities, crossing town for a play date, living in our mini-van, and then driving everyone home. It’s really no wonder we dream of the day when our children climb into the driver’s seat—unaccompanied.

With in-your-face statistics of teenage traffic accidents and fatalities, however, that dream is inevitably followed by a cold sweat. Are you really ready for your 16-year-old to be strapped behind the wheel of a giant weapon, maneuvering through pedestrians and other hazards?

According to the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for 15- to 20-year olds. Acquiring a driver’s license may be a rite of passage, but how do we get over the fact that it comes with significant risks?

Let’s start with: Teen fatalities are down by 64 percent since 1975. Teens are wearing their seat belts, and are far less likely to drink and drive than adults.

The bad news, however, is that the love affair with a certain hand-held device has teens wrecking more than ever due to distracted driving habits. The number of fatalities caused by distracted driving has now surpassed those caused by driving under the influence of alcohol.

Let your kids know that in Oregon it is against the law for anyone under the age of 18 to use a cell phone while driving, even if equipped with a blue tooth device. Also, point them towards a recent Car and Driver Magazine experiment comparing reaction times of a driver who had been drinking versus one who was texting and driving. Results were startling: After having a few drinks, the driver performed much better than while texting and driving.

Don’t give up: The good news is there are things you can do as a parent to stave off the urge to reach for a Valium every time you relinquish your car keys. Believe it or not, you do have influence over your young driver’s habits. You own the car, right? You have the keys in your possession, right?

The best gift you can give your son or daughter is enrollment in a driver’s education course. Both of my sons took part, and the experience was outstanding. During classroom hours, the instructor presents a myriad of scenarios to prevent accidents, drills your teen on Oregon law, and let’s not forget the shock factor of all the gory videos of fatal accidents. The hands-on driving sessions follow strict protocol for driving the correct way every time. Students who take driver’s ed are much less likely to be involved in a fatal car crash, says the Oregon DMV.

As a bonus, the incentive for teens is that after the successful completion of the course, students receive their driver’s license automatically on their sixteenth birthday without taking the driving portion of the DMV test. In addition, insurance companies look fondly on the course and offer significant discounts to those who pass.

Practice with your child as much as possible when he has his learner’s permit. Every time you get in the car to shuttle him somewhere, make sure he’s the one behind the wheel.  He may be in the driver’s seat, but you are essentially still in control. Take this opportunity to point out what he’s doing right and, of course, wrong, everytime.

And, remind your child to put the phone in the back seat or even the trunk while driving, so he’s not tempted to look down at it. (Be prepared, though, to be met with resistance on this point).

When your teen first receives his driver’s license, he’ll be subject to Oregon’s law that stipulates a period of six months before he is allowed to transport non-family members in the vehicle. Although, many teens take this law rather lightly, as a parent encourage solo driving and enforce consequences for any lapse in judgment. It really is a good idea to ease into the responsibility of managing things without excited peers raging in the cockpit.

With preparation, good practice, and most importantly, parental involvement, your new driver is equipped with the best possible skills for successful driving. Be excited. I know I am. You will not believe the amount of time freed up without the constant jumping in the car to get someone somewhere by a certain time. On another note, handing off the car keys, you’ll find yourself just a little further along the path to letting go. 

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