Winding-Road

Parenting teen drivers: anticipating the “What ifs?”

Some parents cannot wait for their children to reach driving age. They either need help carting other kids around or they’re simply eager for the freedom of no longer having to play lone taxi driver.

I wasn’t one of those.

Though not prone to worry, I’ve received a few of those calls–the kind that merely send your heart to racing, or the tragic one in the middle of the night that leaves you reeling…. I can’t stop myself from saying Be careful every time I’m with my children and they walk out the door with a set of keys in their hand. This even goes for the two in college.

A car in the hands of an inexperienced driver is a loaded gun. Throw a cell phone in the car and you’ve just cocked the trigger.

A car is a loaded weapon

As parents, we do what we can to instruct and equip our children to minimize risk – to them, certainly, but for everyone else on the road, too.

I’ll never forget the day a neighbor couple showed up at my front door to ask if they could speak with my son or whomever just pulled in our driveway; turns out, this couple’s young children were playing in their front yard at the time my son’s friend was speeding through the neighborhood to our house.

The dad wanted to speak to our children and their friends to appeal to them to slow down. Why was he willing to do a potentially embarrassing thing like that? This dad had killed his best friend in a speeding accident when he was a teenager.

He paid an unimaginable cost to learn the truth of my words. Loaded gun….

Thankfully most of us will never face a severe accident, but I’d wager many of us have experienced a fender bender at some point in our lives. It’s likely that if you have a teen driver, he or she will, too. The question that needs to be asked:

Does your teenager know what to do if he or she has a wreck?

Listen closely, mamas and daddies: even if you have discussed this with him or her, even if you feel like you’ve explained it ad nauseum and it’s just common sense anyway, your otherwise bright and logical child will forget everything they know and need to do once they’re jarred by the sound of scraping metal. Or, they might believe it doesn’t apply in “this” case or they’ll defer to the other person in the accident, regardless of fault.

I’ll explain with a personal example:

A few weeks ago during a morning rain shower, my son scraped another parent’s car turning into a parking space at school. He quickly checked to see if his car was damaged (it wasn’t, beyond scraped paint), and understandably flustered, turned to go into school. The mom stopped him to talk and she got his name and my number. He called me later during a break between classes – thankfully, before I got a call from the other mom.

He was barely rolling when he made the turn and no one was injured, but I became increasingly irritated as I went through a series of questions:

Did you call the police and file a report?

Did you exchange insurance information?

Did you get her name and number?

He hadn’t done any of the things we have instructed our children multiple times to do in case of an accident. Based on how he described the events, I wasn’t convinced it was even his fault, but he was quick to assume responsibility. I wondered if an officer would have thought differently.

The other person involved was just as new to the school as we were, and stranger things have happened than insurance fraud. A mannerly kid whose nature is deference to authority, our son was rattled and let this mom take the lead in what to do rather than following the protocol we had previously established.

I was extremely frustrated when I finally spoke with the other driver; I couldn’t understand how an honest adult would not call the police. How did she know we had insurance and would cover the cost of her car’s damage? I didn’t agree with her actions; however, the more I spoke with her, the more reasonable I found her to be.

My husband and I seized this opportunity to once again review with our children what they should do in the event of an accident.

  • We invited their questions and had them verbalize back to us exactly what we expected.
  • We went over a number of different types of scenarios so they could understand the best course of action for each one.
  • We engaged them in conversation and did our best to avoid lecture.

It is extremely unnerving to be in an accident, regardless of fault; it’s easy to forget what to do especially if the other driver is aggressive or accusing you when you believe he is at fault. Have you had this conversation with the drivers in your house? If so, why not have a conversation today inviting them to tell you what they’d do in the event of an accident.

Don’t assume they remember. I promise: it can never hurt to reinforce what (you think) they already know!

There are a lot of AoS readers whose children are just approaching driver age. How about sharing your best piece of advice for parenting new drivers?

P.S. With high school and college graduations right around the corner, it’s time to share my post featuring great ideas for gifts including items every car shouldn’t be without!

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