It's considered a rite of passage for teens as young as 14 to 17 in the United States and 16 in Canada, and it is very often a major source of consternation for parents. While we celebrate the freedom of not having to drive our offspring everywhere, we also tend to watch the clock until the car is safely back in our driveway and our child is tucked snugly in his or her own bed.
Fortunately, most teens and parents survive the stressful early driving years. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers the disturbing fact that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds.
Driving schools across the nation offer professional classes to teach new drivers the rules of the road, but many parents still take the responsibility on themselves.
Ryan Buckholtz, co-founder of TeenDriving.com, makes a few suggestions for parents who teach their teens to drive: Parents should be familiar with the rules of their state regarding age requirements, road rules and age restrictions once their teen earns their license. It's also important to provide a good example for their new driver to emulate. Depending on the individual state, learner's permits allow the new driver to get practice behind the wheel, as long as he or she is accompanied by a parent, a licensed driver who is 21 or older, or a certified instructor. Some states set a minimum time between the issuance of a learner's permit and the road test for a full license.
The American Automobile Association has actively lobbied for driver education and road safety. Every American state has instituted three-stage Graduated Driver Licensing in an effort to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities among new, young drivers. The steps involve supervised driving, restricted solo driving and, finally, full driving privileges. Most states lift these restrictions at the age of 18, and AAA is participating in studies to determine the benefits of raising the age.
Driver education programs, which vary from state to state, are being evaluated to determine effectiveness. Some states, including Virginia, mandate a standardized Driver Education Certification course for new drivers, which includes both classroom and behind-the-wheel hours. New York requires a minimum of 50 hours of supervised driving before the holder of a learner permit can take a road test for a junior license and permits a parent to sign off on this prerequisite.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is ramping up education about distracted driving -- for example, texting, eating, drinking (nonalcoholic beverages), talking on the cellphone, reading a map, adjusting the radio and programming a GPS device while driving, all of which take the driver's attention away from the road.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research: "Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009. That number went up to more than 3,000 in 2010. Drivers who are younger than 20 have the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted."
A teen driver's license is often accompanied by the desire for his or her own wheels. Considering how often Mom or Dad has to relinquish the car keys, the hunt for a new (or used) car soon ensues. It is a generally accepted fact that the more expensive and faster the car, the likelier it is to be involved in an accident or at the very least to attract driving tickets.
Look for a new car with as much safety equipment as fits your budget. Some of the safety features that Consumer Reports recommends include multistage advanced front air bags, side and head-protection curtain air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control.
CR goes on to say that large pickups and SUVs are not stable enough for a new, inexperienced driver, and sports cars are too "speed inspiring" for most teens. Check for vehicle safety and crash results in tests performed by Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Consumer Reports lists a few good tips for new drivers: Buckle up; hang up the phone; slow down; don't drink and drive; be prepared; limit night driving; watch the weather; limit passengers; drive the right car; and, finally, create rules.