A restricted driver’s licence does not mean restricted parental responsibility
Congratulations! You’ve made it through the nappy years, the toddler years, and the early teens. But, wait, shock horror. Your baby is about to drive themselves to the shopping mall!
For your teen, driving a car for the first time is seen as a rite of passage. It’s a euphoric time which can scream freedom and independence. For parents, however, the dangers facing young drivers are all too familiar as they reflect on their own experiences learning to drive.
Between 2013-2017, 336 drivers aged between 16-24 were either killed or seriously injured. Research has shown that these drivers are more likely to crash during their first six months of having a restricted licence than at any other time in their life. That's not because young drivers are bad drivers. It's because they lack the experience and knowledge of people who have been driving for many years. These young drivers are seven times more likely than lowest risk age groups to be involved in a fatal or serious injury.
The stats make for difficult reading, yet the risks can be significantly reduced by teens and parents sticking to the two main conditions of the restricted licence:
A parent’s job is far from done, even though you’ll wish your days as a taxi driver are finally over. Maybe a new driver in the house signals more ‘me’ time. But in reality, a restricted licence for your teen means staying even more involved as parents while they learn this new territory. Just as our parents never stopped worrying about us on the road, we should never ease up on our children. The training wheels have been supersized and inexperience is a risk.
To prevent sleepless nights, read on. We’ll try to make the road a little smoother.
Firstly, congratulate your child on how far they’ve come. It’s a great achievement to pass a driving test.
Teens are also likely to want to twist the rules. ‘I should be home by 10 pm,’ might be followed by, ‘But I’ll have to pick up Phoebe because it’s raining, I think she’s got her full licence.’ You’ll be told to ‘chill out.’ Stick to your guns. Your teen needs your help. They are far from bulletproof. They might have the keys, but you have the experience.
How to help:
- Ask them about their driving and whether there are areas they think they need help.
- Drive with your kids in riskier situations, like wet weather and heavy traffic.
- Make sure they are developing good driving habits.
- Keep giving advice.
- Reinforce the rules: no driving after 10 pm, no passengers, zero alcohol tolerance for under-20s.
Our teens need us to...
- Check in; ask them how they are doing, keep open communication.
- Stay calm when they make mistakes.
- Be available at any time. (Thanks to mobile phones, this has never been easier.)
- Exhibit good driving habits. The more parents stick to the road rules, the more likely their teen will follow in their footsteps.
Believe it or not, teens hate to be a burden...
Parents need to lead by example
15-24 year old drivers were
involved in 86 fatals,
665 serious injury and
2653 minor injury crashes.
Lucy Armstrong, now 24: I was pretty bad; there was a lot of stuff going on my parents didn’t know about. I can confess it now but I regularly drove after 10pm and took passengers.
“I think, looking back on my 16-year-old self, it was a lack of understanding about why the rules were in place. I had no real knowledge of the stats that showed, for example, how many bad accidents involved young drivers and restricted drivers.
Lucy says her parents were caring (“they were definitely concerned about their little girl let loose behind the wheel of a car”) but tended to trust that she would observe the rules and gain experience on the road.
Lucy didn’t get caught but “I had some pretty close calls. There was one time when a car driven by an older guy almost hit me. We both stopped and he began to abuse me. I was pretty terrified though I knew it hadn’t been my fault.
“But I had a passenger in the car… and I shouldn’t have. This guy reported me to the cops and I had to get my parents and go down to the police station.
“I was remorseful but didn’t say anything to anybody about the passenger, not even my parents. The police decided there wasn’t any point in pursuing the near-crash – so I was very lucky.
“I don’t think the education of restricted drivers and their parents was as good then as it is now. I was the oldest of the kids and the first to get a licence – and my parents were much more involved with my sister when she wanted her licence, for example.”
Justin Ellington, father of three, aged 17, 15 and 13. His 17-year-old son is currently on a restricted licence and his 15-year-old daughter is about to turn 16 and can't wait to get her licence.
In the year his son has been on his restricted licence, Justin believes parental involvement has been“vital”.
“I found two main things: first, stay interested in what your son or daughter is doing at all times; don’t just think that, now they have a licence, that they can effectively drive their own lives… they are still young people who need a steer.
"The second thing I found was the importance of upping your own game. I had to demonstrate that my own driving was living up in practice to what I was preaching. So I made sure I brushed up on the road rules, didn’t speed, indicated properly and generally became a better driver – all part of the overall effort to provide a safe learning environment for him.”
Ellington found it important for him to continue to drive with his son regularly, but to do so in a helpful way: “I was nervous about my child being behind the wheel of a car but you have to handle it a bit like a sports team: Be calm, simple and correct but don’t criticise.
“Stay involved with their lives so that you can suggest they do a lot of supervised driving, with you in the car – that time is very important.
“Parents should give themselves a lot more time when supervising driving – so if you are heading out with your teenage driver on a 15-minute trip, allow 20-25 minutes. That’s because rushing causes a lot of stress and maybe promotes errors – so give yourself more time. No one ever got penalised for arriving early.’’
The result of all this parental supervision? Thanks to staying involved throughout the early driving years, Ellington says his 17-year-old son, with six months to go on his restricted, is "a better driver at that age than I ever was."
68% of passengers who died
in vehicles driven by young
at-fault drivers were 15-24.
The key is to appeal to teenagers’ wider culture and not to keep banging on about the road rules. That’s the opinion of Dr Lise Claiborne, Co-Director of the Difference, Disability, Inclusion Research Unit in Te Oranga School of Human Development.
Her view comes as road safety authorities continue efforts to reduce the disproportionate number of fatal and injury accidents involving young people – including restricted licence drivers, many of whom are still overlooking restrictions like not driving after 10pm and not carrying passengers.
While numbers have come down in the last 10-20 years, they are still too tragically high – 496 dead or seriously injured, from 2013-2017, including 160 young passengers.
Claiborne says parents have a key role to play and that the focus needs to turn from addressing the “average” of a group and instead look at the diversity of individuals.
“It’s not just a matter of saying that young people have immature brains – it’s way more complicated than that,” she says. “Real behaviour change needs a lot of other things around it to make it richer and deeper, like the wider culture they inhabit.
“It’s not just that they are rebellious teenagers; we have to understand the wider world is putting them under all sorts of pressure – they are continually receiving messages about their place in the world and what is supposed to be important to them.’’
“At the same time, they are subject to peer pressure and the power of being cool and all the extra complications of the digital world and social media.
“A car is part of that – it is not just transport, it is a social tool for them as well. It touches on elements like power, status, fashion, cool and celebrity,” she says, “and they are subject – as are many older people – to the appeal of bigger cars, faster cars, fashionable cars.”
The key role of parents was to talk and take an interest, not just sigh in relief that someone else was doing all the driving now.
“Having taught young people for a long time, I know young people have a real openness to honesty,” she says. “Parents shouldn’t present themselves as a model person but talk honestly about their weaknesses. Young people have good bullshit detectors.”
“We need more awareness of how they operate in their world and their life,” says Claiborne, “going beyond an individual’s mental processes to a bigger picture of their environment, including culture – as their experiences and communities they come from influence how they see the world. So we have to help young drivers change their view of the road and their behaviour on it.’’
Don't ask your son/daughter to break the rules – It may be tempting to have your teen pick up their siblings but it only teaches your child that you're okay with them breaking the conditions of their licence.
Be gently insistent - Many teens think the 10pm curfew is too early and believe they are experienced enough to drive with passengers.
Be available - Let your teen know you are contactable if they ask to be picked up after the 10pm curfew, with no questions asked and no repercussions.
Choose the right time to talk about their driving - The best time is during a car ride when the parent is driving. Avoid early in the morning when your teen is still waking up, and straight after school when they’re trying to relax. It’s a good idea to keep quiet while they are driving and trying to concentrate. Get this wrong and your well-meaning chat is likely to end up in an argument and the message won’t get through.
Have someone else they respect reinforce the message - If there is some pushback from your teenager, or driving conversations lead to tension or arguments, it's a good idea to use a close family member or friend to reinforce what you're saying.
Don’t use scare tactics - Hearing your worst case scenario will freak them out and make them more nervous than they already are.
*For more information on licence conditions, preparing for the test and coaching young drivers visit www.drive.govt.nz.
75% of fatal crashes
are on the open road
28% of all fatal crashes
Teen drivers’ vulnerability is due to a mix of inexperience, age, their social environment and their physiological development.
In the first six months of driving solo, a restricted driver is at the greatest risk of having a crash than at any other time in their life and are seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal or serious injury crash than other, lowest risk drivers. Getting through this risky stage will see them on their way to gaining a full licence.
The more experience a teenage driver has with you as support the more secure they will feel, especially in new situations. For example, let them know they can call on you whenever a sticky situation arises, though some things they’ll have to figure out for themselves. Maybe they’ve been pressured to drive their friends home after curfew or to give someone a lift who doesn’t themselves have their full licence.
It’s essential to keep dialogue open by staying involved in the driving journey. Ask to go on drives with your teen to see how they are progressing.
Get them used to driving with a supervisor, but stay calm. No one needs a backseat driver or freak-outs from mum or dad. Keeping up-to-date with how long they have before they can sit their full licence will show them that you want to them succeed, as an independent person and a safe and skilled driver.
As a parent, don’t take your foot off the pedal. You’ll never stop worrying about your kids. Be tough, but fair. Trust them and listen to them, but give them responsibility. Show them that learning to drive can be enjoyable, but know your job ain’t over. Most importantly, be proud of them, you’ve taught them well, they’ll get there in the end.