Imagine hiring a retired or off-duty police officer to covertly follow your teen driver around making note of his bad driving habits. Sound a bit extreme? Not according to Quest Driving Safety (Quest), who for just $99 will conduct a 15-20 minute evaluation of how a teen is doing and provide the information to his parents. The service, says CEO Gary Lawrence, record things that insurance or Internet-supplied GPS units can’t record.
The service isn’t just for teens. Quest will also follow senior and fleet drivers. A large portion of the senior business comes from families who live far away and can’t monitor their family member’s driving ability. This accounts for about 30 percent of the firm’s business, while the bulk of it is teens.
I learned about this service, which I’m not a fan of (more on that later), just a few days after Toyota Motor Sales, USA and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) released the preliminary findings of a national study of teen drivers (ages 16-18) and their parents. The study shows a significant correlation between parent and teen behaviors behind the wheel, suggesting the former can play an influential role in modeling risky behavior on the road.
Commenting on the connection noted in the study between parent and teen driving behavior, Dr. Tina Sayer, CSRC Principal Engineer and teen safe driving expert, said, “Driver education begins the day a child’s car seat is turned around to face front. As the study shows, the actions parents take, and by extension, the expectation they set for [their teen] drivers each day are powerful factors in encouraging safe behavior behind the wheel. Seat belts and good defensive driving skills are critical. However, the one piece of advice I would give parents to help them keep newly licensed drivers safe on the road... is to always be the driver you want your teen to be.”
I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Sayer, whose findings are also supported by the work of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Children model their parents’ behavior, so what we do day in and day out, including behind the wheel, will influence what our kids do as they progress through adolescence, their teen years and into adulthood.
As a safe driving advocate who leads the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition and the parent of a teen driver, I’m well aware of the impact my husband and I have on our son’s behavior both as a driver and passenger. From always buckling up and never using a cell phone, to obeying the rules of the road and sharing the road, it’s up to us to lead by example.
That brings me back to spying on new drivers. Parent who opt to take advantage of Quest’s service receive a parent-teen driving agreement. They’re encouraged to review the form with their teen as well as advise them of the pending evaluation. While I’m a fan of parent-teen agreements (our family has one and it clearly spells out the ground rules for driving and the consequences if our son violates them), I think coupling it with the evaluation screams, “we don’t trust you.”
Instead of paying for what amounts to a covert operation, particularly if you don’t divulge what you’re doing, why not spend more time driving with your teen? Just because your teen has been granted a drivers license, doesn’t mean he or she is no longer a driver in training (CHOP research confirms that it takes at least 1,000 miles of driving for a teen’s crash risk to drop and even then it’s twice that of older drivers until about age 25).
Our son has been licensed since mid-August, but there are still times when my husband and/or I are in the car with him. While we’ve seen tremendous improvement in his ability to control the vehicle, scan and share the road, and make maneuvering decisions, our novice driver is still honing his skills and will benefit from continued coaching.
Couple that ongoing coaching with a bit of introspection and self-improvement by parents nationwide -- correcting what we are doing as drivers that we certainly don’t want our teens to do -- and it could have a profound impact on our teens’ ability to survive their most dangerous driving years.