One of the most stressful parenting milestones is teaching your teen how to drive. Watching your kid navigate the roads behind the wheel can be nerve racking and it can feel impossible to teach them everything they need to know to be safe before they pull out on the road unsupervised. It doesn’t help that car crashes are the leading cause of death among American teens, accounting for more than one-third of all deaths of 16 to 18-year-olds, according to the Institute for Highway Safety. Teaching a teen to drive is a serious matter because car accidents have serious consequences.
Despite the anxiety that might come along with teaching a teen to drive, the task requires a considerable amount of patience, empathy, and knowledge of what is necessary to ensure your child becomes a skilled and responsible driver. Keep in mind that the new driver is likely as nervous, if not more nervous, than their parent is. They might be excited about the freedom they will have once they get their license, but the road to get (and deserve) that plastic card is a long one.
According to Alaska teen driving laws, the parent, legal guardian, or employer of a teen driver must provide proof that the teen has a minimum of 40 hours of supervised driving experience, 10 of which in “challenging” circumstances, but that’s a minimum for a reason. Skilled and safe driving takes a lot of practice, on a lot of different roads, and in many different conditions. If you’re teaching your teen to drive, consider taking supervised driving time up between 70 and 100 hours—the time is worth it for you, your child, and everyone else on the road.
Even after six months of supervised practice, more than 50% of teens were still making serious mistakes, according to a study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. These mistakes include hitting a curb, running stop signs, and pulling out in to oncoming traffic. These mistakes continue for several months after teens get their license, according to another study lead by researchers at the Highway Safety Research Center of the University of North Carolina. This means that there is a lot of learning left to do once teens are behind the wheel unsupervised, but it could also mean that their supervisors missed some important aspects of safe driving during training sessions.
Researchers at the Highway Safety Research Center found that parents’ driving instruction focused mostly on vehicle handling. Parents also have a tendency to stick to daytime driving along familiar routes. Few parents extended knowledge about higher-order driving skills like spotting and avoiding potential hazards and staying truly focused on the road conditions and other vehicles. Most experienced drivers don’t register that they exercise such skills, such as automatically slowing when approaching a crosswalk where pedestrians might appear. Parents tend to drill teens on maneuvers that gave them the most trouble when learning to drive, such as parallel parking, instead of driving habits that can mean the difference between life and death.
The most important things that parents can teach teens about driving is how to develop hazard recognition and judgment, like making left turns into oncoming traffic and how to merge on and off highways at high speeds. These topics are covered in driving school, which is required in Alaska, but learning to drive isn’t about regurgitating facts about safe driving on to paper.
How can parents do this?
One way to reduce future crashes for your teen is having them practice driving with you on progressively more challenging roads, at night, and in bad weather. Teens whose parents had them drive on varied roads and in varied conditions performed better on road safety tests after they got their license, according a study conducted at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention.
Other vitally important topics that should be discussed in detail during the learning process are the dangers of distracted driving and driving under the influence. Parents should keep in mind when teaching their own child to drive that the advent of technology, and the amount that young people rely on technology today, should change the way teens are taught to drive.
If your teen has been using a smartphone for years, it might be natural for him or her to think that using a cell phone while driving is just a part of their daily routine. Having a serious discussion with kids about, and showing them proof of the dangers of, using a smartphone while driving is likely the most important lesson you can give a teen today about driving. It’s important that teens understand that using a cellphone while driving is not like using a cellphone while strolling down the street. For someone who has been exposed to and using technology for much of his or her young life, this might take a while to truly comprehend and take heed.
The risks of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is another important aspect of driving that teens need to understand before they are able to drive alone or with passengers. As the years pass, it seems as though more and more teens are drinking alcohol with their friends at young ages—whether it’s at a party or unsupervised at home. If teens don’t understand the true danger of driving even after just one or two drinks, the result can be deadly. Experienced drivers who drive drunk already cause hundreds of accidents a year. The consequences of inexperienced drivers who drive drunk can be even greater.
An example of these consequences for teen drivers and everyone else on the road happened right here in Anchorage. Recently, an Anchorage teen pleaded guilty to a hit-and-run and driving under the influence. In this accident, the young driver hit and killed a cyclist and then fled the scene of the accident. There is no proof that the way this teen was taught to drive had any hand in such a negligent decision and tragic accident, but the story is important for parents teaching their teens nonetheless. This is the kind of story you can share with your teen to illustrate the dangers of driving under the influence, and the types of hazards that can appear on the road at any time. If your teen doesn’t know how to look out for, and share the road with, cyclists and pedestrians, then accidents are more likely to happen.
Yet another important aspect to keep in mind when the time comes for your teen to get behind the wheel is teen driving insurance. Alaska has both financial responsibility and mandatory insurance laws for teens and adults. Make sure to talk to your insurance provider about adding on a young driver to your policy.
Since there is more risk associated with teen drivers, the insurance policy for your teen in Anchorage might be considerably higher than your own. If your teen avoids getting in any sort of accident in their first years of driving, this rate might go down or remain the same. But, if your teen is involved in an accident, your insurance rate could skyrocket again. You might consider having a conversation with your teen about the cost of insurance and how learning to drive well is important on a financial level as well as a physical one.
The fact of the matter is, Alaskan parents face an increasingly difficult challenge in teaching their kids to drive. There are all the aspects of driving that people face in other parts of the country, but there are also unique aspects of driving in Alaska that parents must keep in mind—such as unpredictable weather. As parents of children of our own, the lawyers at Kelley & Canterbury LLC understand the difficulties of teaching a teen to handle a vehicle and the importance of keeping them safe on the road. We support parents in Anchorage and are here to provide any knowledge we can to our clients and community members
If you have questions about teen driving laws in Anchorage or elsewhere in Alaska, don’t hesitate to contact our office. If your teen or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, our personal injury attorneys are here to help you determine the next steps.