When Michelle Metcalf’s daughter Molly was learning to drive, she faced the anxiety and frustration common among parents of new teen drivers.
“It’s always nerve-racking when your child turns of age to be able to get to driving,” said Metcalf.
Metcalf and her husband spent time practicing with their daughter in parking lots and along a two-lane road near their home.
“When you’re on a two-lane road with a child that’s never really driven before, they want to go more toward the ditch, and it’s a little nerve-racking, that you’re going to end up in the ditch,” said Metcalf.
Yet, this practice builds experience, which is key to developing safe drivers.
Car crashes remain the leading cause of death for teenagers, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists inexperience as the number one reason for teen crashes. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, new teen drivers have highly elevated crash rates during the first few months of independent driving. Rear-end, intersection and run-off-road crashes account for the majority of these crashes.
This impacts everyone, as about two-thirds of those injured or killed in teen driver-related crashes are someone other than the teen driver, according to AAA Foundation research.
To help teens gain the necessary experience, Ohio law requires new drivers, under the age of 18, to accumulate 50 hours of experience with a licensed adult over age 21. Ten of those hours must be at night. Teens must also take 24 hours of classroom education and complete eight hours of behind-the-wheel training with a licensed instructor before obtaining a license.
“Driver training is an integral part of preparing teen drivers in Ohio for a lifetime of driving,” said Felice Moretti, director, Ohio Traffic Safety Office.
By the time Molly started behind-the-wheel training at AAA Driver Education, she had already accumulated the state-required 50 hours of experience with her parents. Driving instructors recommend at least 10-15 hours of experience before training with an instructor. When a student comes in with no experience, instructors can tell the difference.
“They have very little or no self-confidence, and most of them are terrified, to be honest,” said Kellie O’Riordan, traffic safety program manager and lead instructor at AAA Driver Education. “They struggle with accelerating and braking, and most of them don’t know how to put the car into the appropriate gear. That can make it a really scary experience for everybody, and we may not even get out of the parking lot. That’s not a good use of their time.”
If parents are nervous, O’Riordan recommends starting with the basics.
“Show them the turn signals, show them the lights, show them the windshield wipers,” said O’Riordan. “Then focus on turns, stops and accelerating.”
To help parents and caregivers, AAA Driver Education holds parent orientation sessions, provides a parent packet to guide parent through the process, and equips parents/guardians with a checklist after each drive outlining what their teen needs to practice.
Metcalf said she noticed a difference in Molly’s driving as she gained experience through the combination of supervised driving and formal instruction.
“She got more confident,” said Metcalf. “She was staying more into the middle of the lane and wasn’t afraid of the cars coming toward her on the left-hand side.”
With her license, Molly drives to school and her grandparents’ house regularly. Yet, she does not like driving in the dark or rain – two of the most dangerous conditions for new teen drivers.
AAA’s How To Drive curriculum teaches that it takes about five years to become an average driver.
“We really want parents to continue practicing with their teens in every environment, even after they get their license,” said O’Riordan. “And, make sure they adhere to state guidelines that protect them in the best way possible, so that they can develop into safe drivers.”
Kimberly Schwind is senior public affairs manager for AAA Ohio.
For information about AAA Driver Education, visit AAA.com/DriverEducation.