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Teach Your Teen to Drive Safely

Are your teens road-ready? Steer them in the right direction with one-on-one lessons.
By Jodi Helmer
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

When Welmoed Sisson registered her teens for classes at a local driving school, she learned their lessons would include a mere six hours behind the wheel. Sisson knew her kids, Ian and Diana, wouldn't develop safe driving habits without more practice, so she supplemented their drivers education with one-on-one lessons with mom.

"I wanted them to have a good start," Sisson says. "I let them progress at their own pace to help them feel more confident behind the wheel."

Sisson spent 10 months offering instruction and encouragement from the passenger seat. The extra time behind the wheel helped. Both kids have been ticket- and accident-free.

The Keys to Avoiding Car Accidents

Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States and sent 350,000 teens to emergency rooms in 2009. Newly licensed drivers have the highest risk of accidents, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"Driving isn't just about knowledge. It's a skill that needs to be learned," Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg, author of You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10-25, says. "Parents need to take an active role in teaching their kids to drive."

Build on the skills they learned in driving school and teach them how to drive well in bad weather, nighttime, and bumper-to-bumper traffic. But don't stop there. "A lot of parents think that once their teenagers get their licenses, it's the end of their involvement when it's just the beginning," Steinberg says. He advises parents to set clear expectations for new drivers, including no cellphones or other teens in the car. If your teen doesn't follow the rules, suspend privileges.

Sisson believes that modeling good driving behaviors and insisting her teens follow her lead has helped them stay safe behind the wheel. "I feel really secure about giving them the keys."

Find a Driving School

Budget cuts have forced many school districts to eliminate drivers education programs, leaving parents no option but to pay for private training.

  • Request a referral to a good program. Ask neighbors and co-workers with licensed teens to recommend driving schools and instructors. "Other parents can tell you about good teachers -- and about those who haven't been so good," Steinberg says.
  • Research the options. The local AAA office and your insurance company may also have recommendations. Call a few driving schools to compare. Steinberg says to focus on programs that offer in-car lessons. And check with the Better Business Bureau about complaints.
  • Take a road trip. Visit the schools and inquire about the training. "Ask about the instructors' credentials and how much practice students get behind the wheel," Steinberg says. More practice time means more experienced drivers.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD the Magazine."

Reviewed on May 15, 2012

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