- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2004

Forget voting at 18, even drinking at 21.It is 16 that looms on the calendar for many teenagers. Amy Chipman of Springfield has been waiting for the day when she can get behind the wheel of a car and go anywhere — well, anywhere within the parameters that her mother, Caroline, has spelled out for her.

“I’ve been counting down,” Amy said as she hopped in the car to take her final driving lesson before being approved for a probationary license two weeks ago. “The first place I probably will drive by myself is my boyfriend’s house.”

A driver’s license may mean freedom for teens, but it also means a new level of stress for parents. Amy is the third of Scot and Caroline Chipman’s children to earn a license.

“You hope for the best,” Mrs. Chipman says. “When they keep coming back safely, then you can relax a bit.”

The Chipmans have made sure Amy has taken the required driver’s training and completed the state-mandated 40 hours of driving supervised by them. They have set down rules such as a midnight curfew and no passengers in the car, for now.

Those are all good rules, says Kenneth Beck, a professor of public and community health at the University of Maryland who has done years of research on teens and driving. In fact, parental involvement is an often-overlooked component of creating a safe driver, he says.

When parents set restrictions on driving, teens usually listen, Mr. Beck says. This can come in the form of a discussion or a written contract that details what the parents expect.

“What we have discovered is that people who place more restrictions tend to have teens who are involved in fewer accidents,” he says. “Parents need to spell it out for [the teens], but not many parents do that. Parents need to set a list of clear, specified instructions of where, when and what when it comes to driving.”

Carol and Stephen Silberstein of Oak Hill have done just that for the new driver in their family. David turned 16 in September and obtained his driver’s license in December. The first time David drove to the neighborhood shopping center alone, Mrs. Silberstein says, it was harder for her than when she put him on the kindergarten bus a decade ago.

“It is so nerve-racking,” she says. “We try to keep our kids out of danger, and then we look back and laugh. I don’t know if I will look back on this stage and laugh. There is nothing funny about your kids driving a car.”

Still, Mrs. Silberstein says her son is well-prepared. She made sure David had a lot more than the required 40 hours of supervised driving in a variety of conditions. She set down rules: No more than one passenger, call me when you get there, don’t mess with the radio too much and absolutely no cell-phone calls while the car is moving.

“I told him, ‘Your life as you know it is over if you use a cell phone while driving,’” Mrs. Silberstein says.

So far, David has handled the responsibility well, she says.

“David is a really good kid,” Mrs. Silberstein says. “If there is a car available, he is free to use it. I have to admit there are days when this works out great. Maybe I will never have to go to Giant again.”

Following rules

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many states have recently toughened up the licensing requirements to reduce not only fatalities, but fender benders.

Thirty-six states (including Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia) have a full graduated driver’s licensing system. This means teens can obtain a permit and gain more experience behind the wheel before earning an actual license.

Maryland, for instance, was one of the first states in the country to go to a full graduated licensing program, in 1999. Teens can get a learner’s permit at 15 years, 9 months. After turning 16, completing 40 hours of supervised driving, taking driver’s education classes and road instruction, and passing a skills test, teens can earn a provisional license, which is valid for 18 months.

If they follow the midnight curfew and stay clear of accidents and moving violations during that time, they then earn a full license, says Andy Krajewski, program director for driver’s education and licensing for the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles.

“We did preliminary research that showed that there was a 45 percent reduction in serious crashes by following this system,” he says.

The District and Virginia have similar three-level licensing systems. Both jurisdictions also have an added component of passenger restrictions. In the District, no passengers are allowed for the first six months unless an adult is in the car. After that, no more than two passengers younger than 21 are allowed (unless they are family members). Virginia law states there can be no more than one passenger younger than 18 for the first year. After that — and until the driver turns 18 — the rule is no more than three passengers younger than 18.

Virginia and the District are among 34 jurisdictions that have passenger restrictions, a crucial element in reducing crashes, says Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“With two or more passengers, the risk of a crash can be as much as five times higher for teen drivers,” he says. “Passengers add to distraction and add to the likelihood of teens taking risks.”

Phil Berardelli, a local author of several books on teens and safe driving, says parents should set down their own passenger rules, as well. He recommends six months with no passengers.

“You can’t rely on our laws,” he says. “They are inadequate in a lot of cases. Graduated licensing, however, is the first step toward becoming adequate. It is a good thing that is beginning to have some impact.”

Driving: a privilege

Mr. Berardelli says driving should not be an automatic right once a child nears 16. Parents need to put a lot of thought into whether their teen is mature enough to be out on the road.

“There is nothing that says when a child turns 16 he has to get a license,” he says. “It becomes all about peer pressure. Parents for 16 years have protected their child and kept an eye on everything. Then, at 16, for some reason, we think it is OK to give a kid a few hours of instruction and put them out there in the most dangerous thing. At 16, many kids are closer to being babies than adults. If I had my way, the driving age would be 18.”

When weighing whether their teen is mature enough to handle driving, parents should consider his or her attention span, Mr. Berardelli says. If a teen has trouble focusing or is easily distracted, he might not take things seriously, the author explains.

“If that is the case, I tell parents they have the authority to say no,” he says. “Teens need parental consent in order get a license. It is not like arguing about what they are going to wear. If they don’t sign, then the kid does not drive.”

If a parent determines the teen is ready, the parent should prepare the teen for the responsibility by going way past the 40 hours of supervised driving. Mr. Berardelli recommends 100 hours or more, under conditions ranging from an empty parking lot to a rush-hour rainstorm.

If parents are thinking about getting a teen his or her own car, Mr. Berardelli recommends staying away from new, fast and expensive.

“Never buy a teen a new car,” he says. “A kid is going to bang up that car in some way. Who pays then? Where is the sense of responsibility? Isn’t that money better spent on education, not sheet metal? Get an older car; then, who cares if it gets banged up? Stay away from sporty. Get serviceable, dull and underpowered with enough speed to get you from here to there.”

Mrs. Silberstein agrees. Either she or her husband might get a new car soon, and then David will have his own car — either Mrs. Silberstein’s very used minivan or Mr. Silberstein’s 9-year-old Ford Taurus.

“Neither of us had our own car when we were 16,” she says. “Every last kid I know has been in some kind of fender bender, so I don’t want to give him a car that is too fast.”

Mr. Berardelli likes old station wagons for teens. They are big, rigid and offer protection, he says. Besides, a 16-year-old will look back fondly on his big, clunky boat of a car.

“If you start off with something ugly, then your teen will have something to aspire to,” he says.

MORE INFO:

BOOKS —

• “SAFE YOUNG DRIVERS: A GUIDE FOR PARENTS AND TEENS,” BY PHIL BERARDELLI, NAUTILUS COMMUNICATIONS, 2000. THIS LOCAL AUTHOR OFFERS ADVICE FOR PARENTS AND TEENS ABOUT DRIVING SAFELY.

• “EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A TEEN DRIVER,” BY ADAM WINTERS, ROSEN PUBLISHING, 2000. THIS BOOK GOES OVER THE BASICS OF SAFE DRIVING.

ASSOCIATIONS —

• AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION OF THE MID-ATLANTIC, 701 15TH ST. NW, WASHINGTON, DC 20005. PHONE: 202/331-3000. WEB SITE: WWW.AAAMIDATLANTIC.ORG. THE NONPROFIT AAA HAS INFORMATION, TIPS AND RESOURCES FOR NEW AND EXPERIENCED DRIVERS. THE GROUP CAN HELP YOU FIND AN ACCREDITED DRIVER EDUCATION COURSE.

ONLINE —

• THE MARYLAND MOTOR VEHICLE ADMINISTRATION HAS INFORMATION ON ITS ROOKIE DRIVER PROGRAM ON ITS WEB SITE (WWW.MARYLANDMVA.COM). THE SITE HAS TIPS FOR PARENTS, A FAMILY CONTRACT AND AN OUTLINE OF STATE LAWS.

• NEW DISTRICT DRIVERS CAN LEARN ABOUT THE PROCESS AT THE DISTRICT’S OFFICIAL WEB SITE (HTTP://DMV.WASHINGTONDC.GOV/MAIN.SHTM).

• NEW VIRGINIA DRIVERS CAN GET AN OVERVIEW OF REQUIREMENTS AT THE VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES SITE (WWW.DMV.STATE.VA.US).

• DRIVE HOME SAFE, A SITE FOUNDED BY PARENTS OF TEEN DRIVERS, HAS INFORMATION AND A DOWNLOADABLE CONTRACT ON ITS SITE (HTTP://DRIVEHOMESAFE.COM).

• THE INSURANCE INSTITUTE FOR HIGHWAY SAFETY, A NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION FUNDED BY INSURANCE COMPANIES, HAS STATISTICS, INFORMATION, LEGISLATION AND SAFETY INFORMATION ON ITS WEB SITE (WWW.HWYSAFETY.ORG).

• PARENTS OF YOUNG DRIVERS (WWW.PARENTSOFYOUNGDRIVERS.COM), A SITE RUN BY THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND AND THE MARYLAND HIGHWAY SAFETY OFFICE, HAS GUIDELINES AND TIPS AS WELL AS AN OUTLINE OF STATE LAWS FOR PARENTS OF NEW DRIVERS IN MARYLAND

TEACHING TEENS

• YOU ARE YOUR TEEN DRIVER’S ROLE MODEL. CORRECT YOUR OWN BAD HABITS SO YOUR TEEN WILL NOT COPY THEM.

• PARENTS CONTROL THE VEHICLE AND THE INSURANCE. TAKE A LEADERSHIP ROLE AND AVOID CONFLICT BY SETTING GROUND RULES UPFRONT. BE SURE TO COVER:

• GAS; WHO PAYS AND HOW TO OPERATE THE PUMP.

• INSURANCE.

• HOW MUCH ACCESS YOUR TEEN WILL HAVE TO YOUR CAR.

• THE NUMBER OF PASSENGERS YOUR TEEN MAY HAVE.

• THE USE OF SAFETY BELTS.

• THE USE OF RADIO, CD PLAYER AND CELL PHONES.

• PRACTICE DRIVING AT NIGHT AND IN BAD WEATHER.

• DON’T RELY SOLELY ON DRIVER’S EDUCATION CLASSES. THOSE CLASSES MIGHT BE THE BEST WAY TO LEARN SAFE DRIVING SKILLS, BUT THEY DO NOT NECESSARILY PRODUCE SAFE DRIVERS.

• REVIEW YOUR TEEN’S PROGRESS AT PRESET DATES. IF YOUR TEEN MEETS GOALS AND STAYS WITHIN GUIDELINES, YOU CAN CONSIDER LIFTING SOME RESTRICTIONS.

• SET GUIDELINES FOR EACH TRIP SO YOUR TEEN WILL KNOW WHAT YOU EXPECT. IN MANY FAMILIES, A TEEN DRIVER MUST SAY WHERE HE IS GOING, WITH WHOM AND WHAT TIME HE WILL BE BACK.

• CONSIDER DRAWING UP A WRITTEN CONTRACT STATING THE RULES FOR YOUR FAMILY. THOUGH THESE CONTRACTS ARE NOT LEGALLY BINDING, IT SETS DOWN YOUR EXPECTATIONS AND THE PENALTIES FOR BREAKING RULES. INCLUDE THE CONSEQUENCES FOR BREAKING FAMILY RULES (SUCH AS CURFEWS) AND STATE LAWS (SUCH AS GETTING A SPEEDING TICKET).

• REMEMBER TO TEACH YOUR TEEN THE NUANCES OF DRIVING THAT A DRIVER’S EDUCATION CLASS MIGHT NOT COVER. SHOW, FOR INSTANCE, HOW TO WORK THE DEFROST ON A FOGGY DAY, HOW TO MANAGE SKIDDING ON ICE AND THE PROPER DISTANCE TO KEEP BETWEEN CARS.

SOURCES: AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION, MARYLAND MOTOR VEHICLE ADMINISTRATION, PROGRESSIVE AUTO INSURANCE

HOW THE STATESSTACK UP

MOST STATES HAVE ADOPTED A GRADUATED LICENSING SYSTEM, WHICH ALLOWS TEENS TO GET MORE SUPERVISED EXPERIENCE WHILE LEARNING TO DRIVE. REQUIREMENTS VARY FROM STATE TO STATE. THE INSURANCE INSTITUTE FOR HIGHWAY SAFETY HAS GIVEN JUST EIGHT STATES A “GOOD” RATING. NO STATES HAVE EARNED AN “OPTIMAL” RATING. HERE IS HOW LOCAL JURISDICTIONS RATE:

DISTRICT (GOOD)

LEARNER STAGE: Minimum age, 16. Must hold permit for six months. Must have 40 hours of supervised driving.

Intermediate stage: Minimum age, 16. Does not require driver’s education course. Must pass road test. May not drive after 11 p.m. (midnight on weekends and in summer). No passengers in car for first six months unless an adult is present. Thereafter, no more than two passengers younger than 21.

Final stage: With clean driving record, restrictions lifted at age 18.

Maryland (Fair)

Learner stage: Minimum age, 15 years, 9 months. Must hold permit for at least four months. Must complete 40 hours of supervised driving.

Intermediate stage: Minimum age, 16 years, 1 month. Must complete class work and road instruction through accredited driving school. Must pass road test. May not drive unsupervised after midnight. No passenger restrictions.

Final stage: With clean driving record, restrictions lifted at 17 years, 7 months.

Virginia (Good)

Learner stage: Minimum age, 15. Must hold permit for nine months and complete 40 hours of supervised driving (10 hours at night).

Intermediate stage: Minimum age, 16 years, 3 months. Must complete class work and road training through accredited school. No driving after midnight. No more than one passenger younger than 18 for the first year. After first year, no more than three passengers younger than age 18 until driver turns 18.

Final stage: With clean driving record, restrictions lifted at 18.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

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