My three teens may not believe it, but I also once was a teen. And one night I was bombing down a snowy road in our old iron Jeep Cherokee, the radio blasting my rock station, not a care in the world. Then I topped a hill and headed down. Now, four-wheel-drive is fine for getting you started on slippery ice and snow, but it’s no help slowing you down. And down I went, at speed.
The hill had a turn and when I put on the brakes, I started sliding out of control towards some trees. So I pumped the brakes as best I could, made the turn, and headed for the intersection at the bottom. Unable to stop, I hung on and hoped for the best. Just before I crossed that road, a Honda Civic zipped by. Luckily that was it for traffic. I skidded across and came bumping to a stop on a snow-covered lawn. After a few minutes I was able to quit shaking and drive away.
My wintery adventure illustrates some safety issues with teen drivers. Teens are inexperienced drivers. They haven’t had enough time on the road to learn things like braking in time or driving slow enough for road conditions. Teenagers also like speed. Speeding is fun, even though it’s not safe. Teens don’t think about consequences. They’re temporary sociopaths- who cares about the future, I’m all about here and now. Though I had driven and jogged over that hill thousands of times, I didn’t foresee going over in a heavy car on snow.
Teens are also easily distracted behind the wheel. Like teen me, they listen to the radio too loud. They drive with friends and have intensely important conversations, or a lot of laughs. They talk on phones. They text. These things take a teen’s eyes and mind off what is out front. Another car slams on the brakes, a red light is ignored, a turn is too tight, disaster ensues.
The above safety issues with teen drivers are why their car insurance is so expensive. Teenagers crash- they incur car repair bills and medical expenses. So what can we do to keep our teens safer while they gain experience behind the wheel? Fortunately Louisiana has Graduated Driver Licensing. This system allows teens to gain experience while keeping them, and those driving around them, safer.
The first rule in GDL is when a teen gets a permit at age 15, they must drive at least 50 hours before they get their license. This means they should spend about one full hour per week driving with an adult, hopefully more. 15 of those hours should be gaining experience driving at night. When a teen gets licensed at 16, there are more rules for that first year of solo driving. By Louisiana law, no driving after 11 pm. Teens can’t have passengers after 6 pm, except an adult over 21. They can’t use cell phones. And no texting. Ever. Even after 17.
Here are some ideas to keep your teen driver even safer. First, try to delay when they start driving. The older teens get the more their brains mature, and they become safer drivers. Take advantage of teen procrastination. Don’t drive them to the Office of Motor Vehicles on their 15th birthday- let them decide when to go in their own good time. Wait for them to badger you incessantly before you (eventually) get around to bringing them. Before you go, make them look up what they will need to bring to get their permit, and get those things themselves- this alone will buy you another few weeks of brain maturity.
Also, wait another year or two after 17 before you let them drive with friends or with a phone, or with the radio on. More time driving with good concentration will help form better driving habits. Finally, limit the time they drive in the rain, on the highway, at night, or at rush hour. They do need to get experienced driving in adversity, but take it slow.
I’ve got three teens on the road myself and followed these rules and my wife and I still worry at night. Look out! Teens on the road!