HIBBING — Junior is getting fewer lessons behind the wheel from ma and pa these days.
A recent survey by AAA shows that parents don’t prepare their teens to drive as well as they did a decade ago.
In the survey of 142 driving instructors across America, 65 percent said the decline in quality parental involvement has added to the challenges facing young drivers.
“With all the other challenges teens face learning to drive, it is critical for parents to re-engage in the process,” said Amy Stracke, managing director of Traffic Safety Advocacy for AAA. “Teens can’t succeed safely on the road unless those closest to them make proper training a priority and set a good example behind the wheel.”
The driving instructors also reported that parents often set a bad example through their own behaviors. The top three mistakes teens make when learning to drive include speeding, distraction and poor visual screening, according to AAA’s survey, Skills of Novice Teen Drivers.
The survey results are being release in conjunction with Teen Driver Safety Week, which is Oct. 16-22.
Cheryl Bisping of the Mesabi Safe Communities Coalition (MSCC) said she was surprised about parents not being as involved, but wasn’t surprised to read that parents often set a bad example for their teens behind the wheel.
“Many things have changed in our ‘driving world’ over the last decade and distraction from electronic devices has become a big issue for everyone as has increased demands on parent’s time which can lead to poor role modeling of driving behavior,” she said. “Parents need to remember that their children are watching them and will model the behavior they see their parents model.”
Roberta Morrow, also of the MSCC, agrees that parents need to take more time to help their teens learn good, safe driving habits.
“The problem is parents as well as teens have many more activities/priorities on their plates than several years ago,” she said. “Our lives have become so fast-paced that we don’t put things like learning/teaching safe driving habits as a priority.”
The MSCC has been hosting a Teen/Parent Driver’s Education night for more than 10 years in partnership with Hibbing Community Education and Arrowhead Driver’s Education.
The class is free for parents and provides information on Minnesota Graduated Licensing requirements, local statistics, crash prevention tips, victim impact and follows the Minnesota Department of Public Safety‘s “Teens Behind the Wheel: A Roadmap for Parents” booklet.
The event is better attended now than in the past, according to Bisping. Attendance was 77 percent of parents back in 2007-2008, but today is closer to 88 percent.
When teens start taking drivers ed classes and behind the wheel, they get a limited amount of instruction.
“We rely on parents to fill in the necessary time to teach proper driving habits,” said Morrow. “Parents need to pick up where instructors leave off and continue to practice these good driving habits with their students.”
Good driving habits don’t happen overnight, she added.
“It takes constant and repetitive practice and time behind the wheel, especially in Northern Minnesota with the changes in seasons upon us right now,” said Morrow. “Weather conditions, road conditions, wild animal crossings and unsafe driving habits by others on our roads are all things teens need to learn, and it doesn’t happen in one or two lessons on the road.”
MSCC members review severe injury and fatal crashes. They have seen crashes in this area over the last few years in which teens have made poor choices that led to crashes that were avoidable had they had more training in defensive-driving habits.
“Teens typically have an ‘indestructible’ attitude. Parents need to convey to them that they are not indestructible and they are very important to their parents and family,” said Morrow. “Parents who can convey and demonstrate the importance of safe driving habits to their students are more likely to have students who also practice these safe habits.”
Past research shows that teens with parents who impose stricter driving limits reported fewer crashes and traffic violations.
“Driving on our roads is a constant learning experience — even for adults — so parents need to give their students enough time on the road with them to give teens the necessary tools to be good, cautious, alert drivers,” said Morrow. “Being prepared for whatever may happen will help teens get a better understanding on how to become a defensive, safe driver.”
For parents of teen drivers, the MSCC suggests taking a teen driver parent awareness class, such as the one they offer.
“For most parents, it’s been 20 or so years since they took a driver’s education course,” Bisping said. “Many things have changed since that time, including graduated licensing laws.”
They also encourage parents to spend as much time possible supervising their teen behind the wheel and making sure they are comfortable in all types of driving conditions before they let them go on their own.
For new teen drivers, the MSCC urges them to give driving their full attention.
“That means putting down the coffee, phone, lipstick, etc., and just drive,” said Bisping.
She also noted that there are many distracted drivers on the road — not just teens — that all drivers need to watch out for.
“Teens have a lot on their minds and can easily be distracted,” Bisping added. “But driving should be the No. 1 priority for all of us when behind the wheel.”
Tips for teaching kids to drive
AAA recommends parents stay actively involved in coaching their teens through the learning-to-drive process by:
• Having conversations early and often about the dangers of speeding and distraction
• Taking the time to practice driving with their teens in varying conditions
• Adopting a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement that takes the learning to drive process in stages and sets family rules for the road
• Setting a good example by minimizing distractions and speeding when driving