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Ask Joanne

Beware: Teen drivers learn by example Add to ...

I’m the parent of a new driver and, while I want to give my son the freedom to learn and make decisions on his own, I can’t help but worry about the risks associated with teen driving. I’m interested in knowing the best approach I can take to help my son drive and stay alive. Do you have any pointers? – Emma in Kelowna, B.C.

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As a parent, you want what’s best for your kids. When it comes to driving, leading by example is one of the most important things you can do.

Volumes of research reveal that your children will model your habits, good or bad.

“If you’re constantly around someone who is always on time and organized, you will pick that up. If you smoke, your children are more likely to smoke, from being around it and seeing that it’s socially acceptable,” says Kelly Calar, B.C. regional director for Young Drivers of Canada. “When it comes to driving habits, one of those that kids pick up from parents is distracted driving – if you’re driving and texting and calling, then your children are more likely to feel that it’s okay. It’s the same with speeding; if your parents are speeding, you’re more likely to do that.”

Hopefully your son has enrolled in an accredited driver training course. Because new drivers also need time outside of lessons to practise and perfect new skills, you’ll want to make sure yours are up to snuff.

“In so many of our jobs, we are retested. We constantly have to qualify and we’re upgraded and things like that – but not in driving, unless it’s something to do with work and somebody requires us to do it,” says Calar. “One challenge I give kids is to see if their parents can still pass their knowledge test – with ICBC [the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia], it’s online. Do you know the answers to these things? And if you can’t pass, do you really think you’re the best person to be practising the fundamentals with?”

Many parents recognize their role in helping to teach their kids until the point when they can legally drive alone, but it shouldn’t stop there.

“They are still inexperienced at that point, and you need to keep being involved, knowing what’s going on and talking to your teens about what they’re doing behind the wheel, where they’re going, and who they often drive with,” says Jayne Morrish, research co-ordinator for the injury prevention organization Parachute Canada. “Driving is a monumental step that provides a new social arena – they’re often in the car with peers and tend to get distracted, and give into peer pressure about taking risks.”

Creating and nurturing a relationship with your teen in which they feel comfortable disclosing information is key.

“If they feel open to talk with you, then they’ll feel open to listening to you,” says Morrish. “The interesting thing is if you have some open discussions and you’re knowledgeable and able to talk with them, you’ll likely be the kind of parent who is a positive influence and can really empower your teens to take control of their own vehicle – and instill in them that this is their car, their drive, their lives. And help them realize that they’re the ones who can set the rules in the car around distraction, and be confident and tell their friends to stop talking, or turn down the radio so they can focus on the task at hand – which is being able to drive safely.”

You want your teen to feel free and excited about driving, but also fully appreciate the tremendous responsibility.

Send your automotive questions to Joanne Will at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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