Friday, October 15, 2010

Training Road Wise Teen Drivers

As the mom of two teenagers and a preteen, I cherish any quality time I can get with my kids in today’s fast-paced world. But I wasn’t so sure how special that time was going to be when I first learned some of the QT – 40 hours precisely - was going to be spent on the road with my just-learning-to-drive, 15-year-old son (a requirement of Missouri’s Graduated Driver Licensing Program).

When I really thought about it, though, I realized he really needed to practice his driving skills and our time together would give us teachable moments about the rules of the road. So, first it was off to the Capitol Mall parking lot in the family car. It was great! We had a lot of wide open space, yet he had to drive slowly and it gave us lots of opportunities to practice turns, stopping at stop signs, yielding to pedestrians, etc.

Eventually we hit the streets and went on longer drives outside the city limits. This is where my comfort zone was tested … often. I did my best to stay calm and helpful, but my knuckles got a little whiter and there were many times I tried to slam on brakes that just don’t exist on the passenger side floorboard, especially riding down the very narrow lanes on Rte. 179 to our church.

Most of the time, his dad or I practiced with him during the daytime. But, the GDL program requires that 10 of the 40 hours of practice driving occur at night. Good thing, too, because since he got licensed more than a year ago, he has done plenty of night driving; i.e., closing at work, late night arrivals after Friday night football games, etc.

Overall, our 40 hours of QT behind the wheel was a good experience. And somewhere along the way, I became MoDOT Mom because of my constant reminders to him to wear his seat belt. Many times, both then and now, I have shared tragic stories about teens who have died in traffic crashes because they weren’t wearing their seat belt. I can only hope and pray this will drive the message home.

Unfortunately for many teens, their lack of experience behind the wheel puts them at a higher risk for traffic crashes. Did you know that our teen drivers only make up 9 percent of licensed drivers, but they are involved in nearly 24 percent of traffic crashes? Or, were you aware that of the 104 teens killed in traffic crashes in 2009, 76 percent were not wearing their seat belt. We don’t want our son to become part of these statistics, so his dad and I gladly took on our responsibility of helping him become a good, safe driver.

Ahh, but that will soon start all over again. You see, our daughter begins driver’s training next year. This time around, we look forward to using MoDOT’s newly redesigned teen safe driving guide, Road Wise. The parent tips in the booklet will help guide her learning experience and we will use the log in the back to track her practice time. It will be a great tool to help teach her the importance of driving safely. But even greater will be the 40 hours of quality time we will have together.