Admit it: How many times have you slammed the imaginary brake while your teenager is learning how to drive? Guiding your teen through this new and exciting time can be a little nerve-wracking! Considering 1 in every 4 new drivers will have a collision within their first year of driving, safe driving skills are a worthwhile investment in your teen’s safety and future.
“It’s a whole new set of worries,” says Joanne Metcalfe, mom to Laura and Andrew. Both of her teens got their Learner’s Permit as soon as they turned 14, which gave them lots of time to practice their skills behind the wheel.
“It was such a progression over two years, at first driving in the community, then driving a little farther and then all of a sudden, they’re driving all the time and I’m the one sitting in the back seat,” laughs Metcalfe.
Keep emotions in check
Once your teen begins driving, it’s important for everyone to keep their emotions in check. If you freak out, it’s likely your teenager will, too. Try to be calm, patient, and encouraging while your teen is driving.
“Sometimes parents may be quick to yell, or don’t give them enough help early enough in order to avoid near-misses,” says Wayne McLachlan, chief instructor with AMA Driver Education.
Empty parking lots, parks, and suburbs are good places to start practicing and avoid peak traffic times. And Sunday mornings tend to be a relatively quiet time on city roads.
Parental coaching vs. driver training
Some parents may feel they can do an adequate job of training their teen driver. The basic rules of the road haven’t changed much in the last 30 years, but now there are more complex roadways, traffic circles, and roundabouts, so you’ll need to make sure you are up-to-date on the latest traffic laws. Let’s face it, as the years go by, we can become a little complacent about our driving habits. That’s why a professional driver training course for your teen is strongly encouraged by Alberta Transportation. The basic courses consist of 15 hours of classroom time, 10 hours of driving time, and the course also covers a wide range of topics.
“We’re not just teaching our drivers to pass a 25- to 30-minute road test. Our training is teaching them to navigate complex driving situations so they can drive safely, anywhere, for life,” says McLachlan.
Metcalfe says her daughter, Laura, took a training course with a local driving school and it was well worth the money.
“It was a confidence thing for both of us, in case we missed something. We didn’t want her picking up our bad habits. I just think you can’t have enough instruction,” she says.
These basic courses start at about $700, but course completion qualifies your teen driver for a 10 to 40 per cent discount on your insurance premiums for three years. In most cases, that will cover the cost of the course.
Key trouble spots for teen drivers
According to McLachlan, some of the key things new drivers struggle with are roundabouts, lane changes, and spatial awareness - they often misjudge how much room they need when passing, driving in tight spaces, or parking. But the number one cause of collisions in Alberta is following too closely.
“We start applying the basic habits like proper mirror and shoulder checks, and visual skills. Because they’re inexperienced, they’re not sure what they’re looking for, so they’re coached to identify what key situations are in traffic, pedestrians, intersections, residential areas, and ground scanning for kids,” he says.
Parents should try to set aside 30 minutes each week to practice driving with their teen and reinforce the key messages their teen is learning in the driver’s training course.
Talk about the dangers of distracted driving
Distracted driving is becoming one of the biggest safety risks on Alberta roads. Make sure your teens know the fine for distracted driving is $287 and results in three demerit points or strikes against their licence. A new probationary driver only has eight to begin with. Distractions include cell phones, a GPS device, the radio, and personal grooming.
“You are 23 times more likely to have a collision if there are distractions, like
a cell phone, in the vehicle,” says McLachlan. “And we really don’t encourage hands-free because it still takes your mind off the task.”
It’s also a good idea for parents to touch on some very practical aspects of operating a vehicle: How to check the tire pressure, oil, and coolant levels and even change a flat tire. Also discuss who’s paying for gas, the cost of a ticket, and who cleans the vehicle?
Teens should earn privileges gradually
While it’s been challenging to let go, Metcalfe says it’s also been fun to watch her kids embrace this newfound independence.
Laura has shown a lot of responsibility with the vehicle and gradually her parents have allowed her to venture farther away and out with friends. She also drives on the highway back and forth to hockey practice. “Laura is really good about about texting us that she’s leaving now and on her way home,” says Metcalfe, who insists on regular communication.
As parents, it’s important to establish clear rules and limits on the vehicle and consequences if these rules are broken. “Just because your teen has their GDL Class 5 Licence doesn’t mean parents have lost control,” says McLachlan. “Have parameters. You might tell your 16-year-old to be home at 11, but the car needs to be home by 10pm.”
Many parents don’t realize that if they’re seriously concerned about their teenager’s driving habits (like too many accidents or traffic tickets), they can have their teen’s licence revoked.
Tips for teen drivers:
Michelle is a freelance writer based in Calgary, and a mom of three. She writes for numerous publications, and explores the challenges of parenting tweens and teens on her personal blog, michelleschurman.com.
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