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How your driving is affecting your children Add to ...

Any parent knows there is a great deal of responsibility in raising children. Unfortunately, not enough parents realize the role they play in teaching their children to drive.

I'm not talking about the direct educational role of sitting in the passenger seat and providing support or direction. That, of course, is an essential part of ensuring the new driver gains the necessary experience under controlled circumstances.

The big problem is the tendency of parents to forget the role they play before and during those early days for the new driver.

During the period leading up to and while taking training -- whether by a professional or a parent -- the new driver is much more aware of the whole process.

He or she will start paying attention to the entire driving/traffic scene, perhaps for the first time. They will absorb many of the practices of the parent they drive with -- not only with respect to skills, but also attitude. The former is something they can and will be taught, the latter is something they will replicate subconsciously.

A parent who regularly runs stale yellow lights, fails to come to a complete stop at a stop sign or ignores speed and other regulatory signage can hardly expect their son or daughter to do otherwise. After all, that is the norm to them, the accepted practice. Once they are on their own, they will stretch those limits, as is the natural practice of youth.

If that starting point is ignorance of the safety and survival of others -- a very personal and selfish form of driving -- the new driver will most often do that as well. They say attitude is everything and, in this case, it can also be life-threatening if it combines aggression toward others and a lack of sharing with a lack of experience and knowledge.

A new driver has not yet accumulated the vital experience to make informed decisions regarding space and time -- specifically, the amount of each needed for manoeuvres in traffic.

Peer pressure, the willingness and even desire to experiment or take chances can have costly results when they involve a two-tonne vehicle and other humans. If the new driver has no respect for others or experience in emergency situations, the outcome can, and often is, deadly.

Another situation that comes up at this time of year is a sigh of relief from mom and dad when their child gets a licence. In most cases, that frees the parent from taxi duty.

It means the new driver can drive themselves and friends or siblings to events, school and other activities. Big mistake! That attitude virtually ensures the new driver is exposed to the worst possible risks -- other occupants in the vehicle and plenty of others their own age either in the vehicle or at the destination.

An actuary could probably calculate the increased risk of these factors, but experience and statistics tell us the two worst things you can do for a new driver, in terms of the risk of crashes, are distraction and temptation.

The distraction issue is not one of cellphones or eating -- it is interacting with others in the vehicle, listening to or participating in conversation, or looking away from the job at hand.

The temptation to "be cool" or take chances escalates in direct proportion to the availability of someone to impress.

Of course, there are exceptions. There are serious young people who ignore all these temptations and distractions and concentrate on the importance of learning to drive safely. They might even have parents who are perfect drivers and role models in that respect.

But there are not enough of these, and the majority usually rules.

Halifax-based Richard Russell runs a driving school. You can find an archive of previous Better Driver features on globeauto.com

globeauto@globeandmail.com

 

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