My daughter, my oldest, is 15 2/3 years old. That 2/3 is very important because it means in a short four months, she will be at the DMV testing for her driver’s license. Yes, I am teaching her to drive and, yes, it is absolutely terrifying. My quiet neighborhood is now a minefield of parked cars and pedestrians. 25 miles-per-hour has never seemed so fast and my garage door has never seemed so narrow.
I am not sure how I became the driving instructor. My husband, a middle school teacher, seemed much better suited for the job. However, his threats to throw up every time she turned a corner made for a poor teacher-student relationship. I, on the other hand, silently grip the roof handle and have agreed to only yell when I feel my life is truly in danger. Happily, these moments are becoming fewer with each drive, as attested to by the heart rate monitor on my watch.
Intermediate Drivers Licenses
The state of Missouri requires novice drivers, between 15 and 18 years of age, to complete at least 40 hours of driving instruction, including 10 hours of night time driving. The driver may then apply for an intermediate license after his or her 16th birthday. While holding an intermediate license, the driver may only transport one passenger who is not an immediate family member for the first six months. After that time, the driver may take up to three passengers. Additionally, the driver is restricted from driving alone between 1-5 a.m. On the driver’s 18th birthday, she may apply for a full license assuming there have not been any alcohol offenses or traffic convictions in the preceding 12 months.
Implementation of graduated licenses, such as this, is one reason for the almost 50 percent decrease in teenagers killed in motor vehicle collisions (MVC). Other factors include increased safety features on cars, use of seatbelts and fewer teen drivers on the road. That said, adolescent drivers still have the highest rate of MVCs among all age groups and car accidents remain a leading cause of death and injury.
Hiring a Driving Instructor
So what is a parent, and a pediatrician to do? I decided to outsource. After our first few rides through the neighborhood I hired a professional driving instructor. Although Driver’s Education was a standard part of the curriculum in my high school growing up, this does not seem to be the case in St. Louis, so we brought in the professional. He comes monthly and has driven with my daughter on main streets, side streets, highways and country roads. He even took her to drive downtown during a Cardinals game, at night, in the rain. He is a brave man. He has made her more comfortable behind the wheel, he has taught her the rules of the road as well as safety tips and car maintenance. However, studies show that his help will likely do more to help her pass the licensing exam than make her a safe driver.
Leading By Example
As with most things, active parental engagement and modeling good behavior has the greatest influence on positive driving habits.
- Wear a seatbelt at all times
- Obey all traffic lights, street signs and road markings
- Do not speed
- Never use a cell phone while driving the car
- Never drive after drinking alcohol, using drugs or with lack of sleep.
- Maintain appropriate distance from the car in front of you
Finally, consider a driving contract. This document will clearly delineate all expectations for your teen driver as well as the penalty for any violation.
As my daughter takes the wheel, I think back to all the other milestones we have been through from her first steps to her first day of school. We got through those. We can do this too.