I’ve written previously about the importance of teen drivers getting plenty of practice when they’re learning to drive. But that practice shouldn’t end after they obtain their probationary or restricted license (that’s the second phase of New Jersey’s Graduated Driver License program). Recently, a fellow hockey mom told me that her newly licensed teenage daughter wanted to drive to the Rockaway Townsquare Mall. “I told her no way,” said Patty (not her real name). “She drove a few times on Route 80 when she had her permit, but she needs more practice before I let her do this on her own.”
Kudos for Patty! While her teen is licensed and, therefore, allowed under state law to drive without supervision, Patty recognizes that her daughter needs a bit more practice before she goes it alone—particularly on a busy interstate highway. Ensuring that our teens get that practice not just on I-80, but on a variety of interstate and state highways and toll roads as well as secondary roads, is critical.
That goes for driving during peak and off-peak hours as well as in all kinds of weather.
If your teen wasn’t exposed to a particular roadway or weather condition while learning to drive, I urge you to follow Patty’s lead and not only say “no” to solo driving, but follow that up with additional practice (which Patty is doing). The time you invest in exposing your teen to driving on a highway during rush hour or in foggy conditions, for example, could save his or her life. In fact, research conducted on behalf of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that the first six months of independent driving and, in particular, the first 30 days—are the most deadly for teens. Allowing them to drive alone once they’re licensed is important for building confidence and skill, but be aware of their limitations and continue to log miles together. They may not like it (believe me, Patty’s daughter was none too happy to be told “mom will accompany you to the mall”), but in the long run they’ll reduce their crash risk (teens with parents who set rules and provide support are half as likely to crash)—music to any parent’s ear.
Let me offer one other tip related to practice. Keep a log. As I’ve noted in past blogs, my teenage son has been maintaining a driving log since he got his permit Labor Day Weekend. It’s a great tool for keeping track not only of how much time he spends behind the wheel, but where he’s logging those miles. We’re using the one included in the free New Jersey Motor Vehicle publication, Safe Driving: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Teens. (Before you start using it, be sure to photocopy one of the blank pages. My son has already racked up over 40 hours of driving and he’s still got over seven months to go before he can legally take his driving test.)
He’s done a fair amount of local driving thanks to weekly trips to the chiropractor, church, school, and the hockey rink. And he’s also done a good bit of driving on state highways like 10, 46 and 206 as well as on I-80. His exposure to the latter has been particularly important, since he’s learning how to merge onto a high speed roadway. Merging is a problem for New Jersey teens; “failure to yield” is the third most common reason why they crash.
We’ve also looking for opportunities to expose him to other roadways. Thanks to hockey (rinks abound in northern and central New Jersey), he recently drove on different stretches of I-287 and 280 in daylight and after dark. I’m also a stickler for trying alternate routes—particularly ones that involve driving on two-lane, secondary roadways. Contrary to what you might think, most crashes occur on secondary roadways, not on the interstates. The former typically have more curves and blind spots as well as fixed objects (i.e., trees, telephone poles, signs) that motorists can crash into (run-off the road crashes are also a problem for teens).
For teens who have limited driving experience, navigating an unfamiliar secondary roadway can be a harrowing experience made all the more dangerous if they're driving after dark and/or in inclement weather. In fact, my son has made it very clear that he’s not comfortable driving Four Bridges Road—a windy, two lane road that leads from the bottom to the top of Schooley’s Mountain in Long Valley where we live.
I'm thrilled that he’s not an overconfident driver and recognizes his limitations, but learning how to navigate this road (carefully and below the posted speed limit) will ultimately boost his confidence and provide the foundation for knowing how to safely navigate the vast array of roads he’ll encounter throughout his driving career. For now, however, we’re avoiding Four Bridges Road—we’ll tackle it once he’s got a bit more practice under his belt. And when it comes to teens and driving, they simply can’t get too much practice.