“Did you find a date for the prom?,” I asked my son several weeks ago. “I’m not going,” he replied. “A bunch of us are going to Dorney Park instead.” While he’s a junior and has next year to tick “attended high school prom” of his adolescent bucket list, I have to confess I was surprised. But being a mom and one that’s all about teen driver safety, I quickly shifted gears and asked two critical question—who are you going with and how are you planning to get there?
When it came to the who, he ran through a list of familiar names. But the response I got concerning transportation—“we’re figuring that out”—was not what I wanted to hear. My son, you see, is nine months into his permit as are some of his friends, so they can’t drive. And of the ones who are licensed, they’re rightfully restricted under New Jersey’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) program from carrying more than one passenger.
So I made him an offer. “I’ll rent a passenger van and drive you and your friends to and from Dorney Park. I won’t hang around,” I quickly added. “I’ll drop you off and come back at the end of the evening. No one will have to worry about driving, especially after what is sure to be a long day.” While I had hoped he’d jump on the offer, he responded with a less than enthusiastic, “I’ll let you know.” The proposed trip is this Friday and the transportation issue has yet to be resolved. Suffice it to say, he won’t be going if we can’t come to an agreement on who will be doing the driving.
Am I a mean mom? A 16-year-old boy might think so, but in my book I’m a caring parent who refuses to bend when it comes to my only child’s safety. Car crashes are the number one killer of teens and while my son and his friends are good students who are involved in their school, church and community, when it comes to driving and riding in cars they’re inexperienced. And that inexperience, makes them highly vulnerable to risk. Simply put, these are their most dangerous driving years, so it’s up to parents to help protect their children from harm. Not an easy task when our teens want their independence and we want that for them as well.
I’ve given my son an ultimatum—he has until Wednesday to let me know his travel plans. Until then, I’m going to reach out to several of his friends’ parents to make them aware of my concerns and offer to chauffer the group to and from the park. When it comes to teens and driving, I firmly believe this parental outreach is critical. We should be talking to other parents about the rules they have for their teen drivers and sharing ours, too. There is strength in numbers here, so why not commit with your parental peers to a common set of driving rules that you’ll all enforce.
I may sound like a broken record, but if we all agree to enforce, at minimum, the provisions of NJ’s GDL program—off the road between 11:01 p.m. and 5 a.m., no more than one passenger in the vehicle, no hand-held or hands-free cell phone (or other electronic devices) use, and everyone always buckles up—as well as no alcohol and drug use, our teens are less likely to crash (seriously, the data confirms it).
The key is to start the dialogue and keep talking. I never pass up an opportunity to talk about the subject with other parents and find that most are eager to share their experiences. ust last night, I was approached at a picnic by a couple whose daughter attends school with my son and is also learning to drive. We regaled each other with our children’s latest behind-the-wheel antics (their daughter is directly challenged, my son knows everything) and I offered insight on what I’ve learned from the professionals about coaching my novice. At the end of the discussion, we had not only gleaned new insights from each other, but reaffirmed that we’re all in this together.
Fortunately, my son’s high school provides a forum—a 60 minute parent/teen education program—where parents not only learn about teen driving risk and the GDL program, but are encouraged to engage in conversation. I facilitate the —Share the Keys—and get tremendous satisfaction out of watching parents hang around and keep talking after it concludes.
If your high school doesn’t offer a teen driving program, why not reach out to your principal or superintendent and request one. The Share the Keys program is free and there are trained volunteers standing by to help bring it to your community. If that’s not possible (and I refuse to believe it is), check out the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition’s GDL Toolkit. It not only has a wealth of information about teen driving that can help you start a dialogue with other parents, but a parent-to-parent agreement developed by AAA. The latter is a simple, but powerful tool designed to help us be parents and protect our teens.