While having my son earn his driver’s license is a few years away, I have started thinking about the process. A lot has changed since I earned “full” driving privileges at age 16.
Today’s 16 year old driver’s license requirements are almost as complex as it was for me to get my pilot’s license in college. One could argue that it is legally easier to get married or become parent than to get a driver’s license. Driving a car is operating a potentially lethal weapon. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), auto accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths. In fact, teen boys are nearly twice as likely to die in auto accidents as teen girls. The CDC research shows consistently high risk factors include driving at night, driving with teen passengers, and newly licensed. Teens have the highest likelihood of a driving death of any age group.
To address these high risk factors, most states now have a graduated driver’s license program that gradually permits more and more driving privileges as a young adult ages. In Illinois, for a young adult to get a license on their 16th Birthday, they must start the process shortly after turning 15. Illinois requires driver’s education, 50 hours of driving practice with 10 hours at night, passing vision and written tests, having a learner’s permit for nine months, and parental consent. The age 16 to 17 driver’s license has curfew hours, restrictions on passengers, cellphone usage prohibition (including hands free), and again requires parental consent. Most state have similar graduated requirements.
The most important requirement from my perspective is the parental consent. Not all kids mature at the same rate and are ready for driving privileges. I have read recently that the human brain does not fully develop until the mid-twenties. While driving is necessary in most locations in our society, it remains a privilege under the law not a constitutional right. It is the same within the family—a privilege not a right.
Probably the single most thing my parents did to keep my behavior inline as a teenager was limit my access to the car keys. I didn’t have a car or even a set of keys. My parents required me to seek permission to drive each and every time. Perhaps I am an anomaly, I don’t recall any specific rules though I knew enough to follow the family rules and to drive responsibly. My parents had a set of boundaries and consequences. I had the authority and responsibility to live within those rules if I wanted access to the car.
To help parents with developing boundaries and rules within legal parameters the State of Illinois offers a driving contract for parents to use with their teens. This contract helps take the emotion and personalities out of the process. It creates a way for parents to describe to their teenagers what is acceptable and unacceptable driving behaviors and practices. The concept of the contract is so important that the Center for Disease Control and other sources have published versions applicable nationwide. You can modify these contracts to fit your family situation.
Here are my own thoughts on considerations of teen driving for parents. I am going to use these questions to formulate my proactive parenting approach toward my kid’s driving in the approaching years.
- Does my child truly have a need to drive or is it for my convenience?
- Do I consider a driver’s license a rite of passage–a step into or toward adulthood?
- What is happening with driving in my kid’s peer group? What does my kid say? What do the other parents say?
- Do I demonstrate good driving practices to my child? “Walking the Talk?”
- Who will teach my child to drive?
- How much is driver’s education? Should I or the teen pay for it?
- Do I have the time to perform the required supervised driving practice?
- What car will my child drive?
- What are the auto insurance implications and additional costs?
- Should my child help pay for vehicle costs?
- What kind of restrictions should I consider? Weather, Time of Day, or Purpose?
- Should I consider some sort of GPS monitoring/ tracking device?
I look forward to hearing about your experience in getting ready for your kid’s driving years.
Other helpful resources:
Look at the website for your auto insurance company.
http://teendriving.aaa.com/IL/ Website will customize content to your state.