Supervised Driving Practice: Don’t Just Be a Passenger, Be an Educator

Are you a parent who panics at the mention of “supervised driving practice”? Here’s a suggestion: Look at it as a great opportunity. Are you a parent who panics at the mention of “supervised driving practice”? Here’s a suggestion: Look at it as a great opportunity. The driver’s education stage is the best time you’ll have to influence and shape your teen’s lifelong driving behavior.

In 2013, teens 15-19 represented only 7% of the U.S. population. However, they accounted for 11% ($10 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries. That’s why all 50 states and the District of Columbia impose a three-stage Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) system. Most states require the learner stage of GDL programs to include at least six months of supervised driving practice, or longer. While this is the ideal time for your teen to gain experience in various driving situations, many parents don’t know how best to train and support their teen during this period, other than riding along with them. Know that there is much more to supervised driving practice than “collecting” hours–it’s what you do with your teen during those hours that counts.

Lack of variety
A report published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says the types of driving practice teens are currently getting is “relatively homogeneous”; they’re regularly driving in residential neighborhoods and light traffic, but less frequently in more challenging situations such as highways, inclement weather, darkness, and heavy traffic.

“The vast majority of practice is the same trips, the same routines over and over again, so teens might be driving to school each day or driving to church on Sunday. And those might be the only settings in which teens are getting practice,” said report author Arthur Goodwin, Senior Research Associate, University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center . “By the time they are eligible for their license, we have teens who have never been on an interstate highway, never driven in bad weather or at night–situations they’ll be driving in once they are on their own. And ideally, we want them to experience those more challenging settings for the first time with a parent there to help.”

The main obstacle to varied practice, it seems, is time, and the fact that families tend to incorporate driving practice into “typical family travel”.

“Driving practice is generally squeezed in wherever the family has time and opportunity,” Goodwin said. To provide different training experiences for your teen, you’ll likely need to make a few special trips.

Wasted conversations
Communication is important during supervised driving practice, but parents appear to be focusing on practical instructions such as vehicle handling and giving directions, Goodwin said, rather than providing useful advice on skills like scanning, hazard perception, and anticipating the behavior of others.

“Parents could be doing a lot more to help their teens learn to see the road like an experienced driver, such as learning to spot hazards in advance, rather than slowing down at the last minute; helping them spot trouble before it occurs,” said Goodwin. “Many parents aren’t taking full advantage of the six to 12 months of driving practice because most of the time they are more or less sitting there as passengers. Teens are getting practice, but they’re probably not learning as much from that practice as we would have hoped.”

OK, so you’re not a driving instructor!
Let’s be realistic: it’s likely parents have zero to very little experience in teaching teenagers how to drive. And to make things even more challenging, Goodwin said, “most parents learned to drive before the GDL existed, so they didn’t have these long supervised driving periods. Parents have no ‘model’ to look back on, so they are coming up with this themselves.”

5 ways parents can effectively train their teen during supervised driving practice:

  1. Practice, practice, practice . State supervised driving hours are a minimum. The more your teen drives, the more experienced they’ll be when they get on the road alone.
  2. Increase variety . Once your teen’s ready, let them progress from residential streets and light traffic to busier roads with heavier traffic.
  3. Break the routine . Make special trips so your teen experiences driving in all settings, such as in the dark and in the rain.
  4. Communicate. Help your teen see the road like an experienced driver. Encourage them to look well ahead for hazards, scan the road and drive defensively.
  5. Continue coaching . Once your teen has his or her full driving license, don’t just hand over the keys. Continue supervising when appropriate–and keep track of when and where your teen is driving.

A job well done, but not over
What happens when your teen does pass their driving test? Your effort is not over. Goodwin recommends parents continue supervising their teens’ driving, by varied means.

“They could continue to supervise on occasions; say if there is snow or ice and the teen has never driven in that setting,” he said. “Parents also need to keep very close track of when and where their teens are driving. There may be settings in which the teen hasn’t had an opportunity to get much practice so maybe their driving in that setting should be limited. If they haven’t driven much at night, for example, then even though the teen has a license and even though there might be license restrictions on nighttime driving, parents might want to add their own restrictions on driving in the dark until they have chance to get out for more practice.”

Thanks to new technology, you can now supervise your teen even when you’re not in the car with them . In fact, technology can give you a helping hand to teach your teen to drive . And you can use it to monitor your teen’s approach to safe driving , including monitoring your teen’s driving performance, such as braking and acceleration trends, obeying speed limits, and avoiding distractions.

“There is a space for technology, and that’s something most families seem to welcome, especially if it can make their lives easier. If we can find ways to use that tool to encourage parents to help their teens to become safer drivers, that is an even greater benefit.” Arthur Goodwin, UNC Highway Safety Research Center

eDriving and have the tools to help:

  • Mentor for Families by eDriving , is a smartphone app that serves as a “coach at your fingertips” during supervised driving. It tracks journeys, helps you log your teen’s driving hours and provides in-app coaching. Once your teen is driving independently it helps them maintain good habits and lets you see how they are doing on the road.
  • eDriving’s interactive One More Second® online course is the ideal preparation for supervised practice. Retrain your own habits and learn ways to instruct your teen in two hours.
  • Professional in-car lessons with a driving instructor are the perfect supplement to parent coaching. Why not ride along with your teen to pick up tips from an expert?
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