Teens and cars have always been a dynamic combination: perpetual freedom-seekers charging around in freedom-bestowing machines.
With such volatility on the fast-moving streets, stuff can happen. Just ask any insurance company.
The latest trend in the chronicle of teens behind the wheel is texting while driving, that is, kids sending and receiving text messages via cell phone while they are rolling down the road, radios blaring.
Although her daughter Julie easily passed her driver’s test in 2008, Anne Scallon, a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Brookfield, was apprehensive about handing over the car keys.
“She had done three times the required 30 hours of practice driving before she took her test,” Scallon said, “But I still noticed that she didn’t have very good peripheral vision and the skill of predicting what other drivers may do in different situations.”
Teens take risks while driving
While few studies on the frequency of teens texting while driving have been done, a 2007 study conducted by AAA and Seventeen magazine found that 61 percent of teens admitted to risky driving habits. Among those 61 percent, 46 percent admitted to texting while driving.
Knowing the pressures on teens to text, speed, and participate in risky driving behavior, Scallon searched for additional information to help her daughter develop better technical and decision-making skills. After scouring the Internet, library and area bookstores, she came up empty.
“I was surprised that it was difficult to find information for parents on exactly what steps the parents should take to safely guide their teen through the first year of driving,” she said. “I did find a lot of good information online about what times of the day and week are the most risky and what situations are the most risky. There are many sites that emphasize the statistics of teen driving fatalities and tips to help teens avoid engaging in drinking and driving, distracted behaviors, speeding and allowing too many passengers, etc. I had a good idea what she should not do, but I didn’t know exactly what she should do.”
After months of research to develop a program for her daughter, Scallon, a writer and publisher, reached out to other parents who she assumed were feeling similar apprehension about putting their teens behind the wheel of the family car. Utilizing her media background, she developed a free newsletter and Web site to provide information on multiple programs available in the state.
Step by step program for parents
“I also decided to develop a step-by-step program for parents to phase privileges for their new teen driver which is the Earned Privileges program,” she said. “Both the Earned Privileges PDF and the Before the Wheel newsletter can be downloaded for free from my Before the Wheel Web site.”
The phased privilege program assists parents in setting clear guidelines to assist teens in making wise decisions regarding driving. Each phase begins with communication between parent and teen on specific driving scenarios and includes a “Just Drive” contract with expectations and restrictions for both the young driver and the parents.
The first phase is designed for the first few months after receiving his or her driver’s license and limits him or her to:
? Driving to and from school, work, sports or school activities;
? Driving to and from malls, theaters and restaurants that are within 10 miles from home;
? Taking roads with frequent stop signs or traffic lights that regulate traffic flow;
? Driving one weekend night with one passenger and follow all curfew rules;
? Driving to and from friends’ homes on familiar routes.
? Absolute sobriety, not a drop of alcohol;
? Cell phone use limited to parked car in parking lot, coffee shop or fast food restaurant;
? All occupants must wear seat belts;
? Driver must stay within speed limit at all times.
If the teen abides by the rules and shows responsibility and respect for his or her driving privileges, additional access to the vehicle might be allowed on evenings and weekends during the second phase.
Phase 2 involves ‘what if’ scenarios
For more information about Anne Scallon’s Before The Wheel newsletter and the Earned Privileges program, visit her Web site.
Scallon advises parents to remain in communication with their teens during this phase, especially regarding possible scenarios such as what to do if passengers refuse to wear seat belts, drag racing, alcohol, arriving later than curfew and inclement weather.
“Discussing the ‘What if’ scenarios helps your teen to become a better decision maker,” said Scallon. “Your teen must have an alternative plan in place before getting behind the wheel or getting in a vehicle as a passenger of another teen.”
Phase 3 is 6-9 months after license
The third phase begins six to nine months after the teen receives his or her driver’s license and is the perfect time for the young driver to take a defensive driving course to hone his or her skills. It is also a good time to review the “Just Drive” driving contract to determine if your teen is ready for full privileges after he or she has completed a defensive driving class.
While Scallon believes that school-based driver education programs are thorough, there is a gap in the system that occurs the day the teenager receives his or her license.
“There are no specific instructions provided for the parents or teens other than the graduated driver’s license restrictions and penalties,” she said. “Very few teens are ready for full driving privileges the day they receive their license. The Before the Wheel program provides the opportunity for the parent to voluntarily sponsor their teen for an additional year so the parent can phase privileges and provide the teen with the opportunity to earn the next level of privileges.”
Scallon compares her preparedness program to that of a summer camp or workshop before joining sports teams in school.
“When your child makes the team, does the coach say, ‘Congratulations, practice on your own and I will see you in three weeks before our first game’? No, the coach says, ‘Congratulations, now the work really begins. We will practice three days a week at this time and work on these skills, and you must be on time, and you must work hard, etc. … we want you to develop technical and decision making skills so we can win at this level and you can work up to the next level.’ We need to do the same thing with our new teen driver.”
Parents often ‘clueless’ about risky behavior
At 17 and a half, Julie has not had an accident, and Scallon hopes that by following the Earned Privileges Program that her daughter will remain accident free.
“So many of her friends have already had accidents,” she admitted. “Julie is a good driver and I am hoping that her defensive driving lessons will pay off in the long run.”
While she had not developed her Earned Privileges Plan when her son, now 22, was learning to drive, his behavior was instrumental in the research for her daughter when she went through driver education.
“He had some risky behavior that we didn’t know about until he got a ticket for driving over 90 miles an hour on I-94. It was then that I realized how naive I was about his driving. I figured he was a football player and just would know what to do,” said Scallon. “I was in complete shock when I learned how fast he was going. It never crossed my mind that he would drive like that.”
After additional research and speaking with other parents of young drivers, Scallon realized that most parents of teens who die or are injured in auto accidents are also clueless as to their teens’ driving behavior. Her efforts have grabbed the attention of parents and driver education teachers throughout the state.
Defensive driving class could save lives
Denise (last name withheld) of Hartland, welcomed the opportunity to participate in the program after nearly losing her son in an auto accident when he was just 16.
“I wish I would have had this newsletter and known about the defensive driving class when my son was 16. He was in a dangerous accident when he tried to make a turn on black ice. Fortunately, he was OK, but the car was totaled,” she said. “He did eventually take the defensive driving class and I had my daughter take it as soon as she received her license.”
Already a hit in school driver education programs and private driving schools, Scallon presented her program, “Before the Wheel, Safe Teen Driving Program,” at the Wisconsin Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association Annual Conference Saturday, April 17, in Stevens Point. The conference was attended by Wisconsin public school driver education instructors and Wisconsin private driver education school instructors and owners.
Scallon’s newsletter is distributed in libraries, dental offices, pediatrician offices, driving schools, insurance companies, schools and in many more locations. Information on receiving the newsletter, as well as additional safe driving information, can be found on her Web site.