The Silver Lining in the COVID-19 Cloud
The entire world is practicing social distancing, and some of us are under shelter-in-place orders. You might find you have some extra time on your hands. If you’re a parent with a teen at home, you might find yourself even growing a bit antsy for something to do — anything to do. Need to grab groceries, get takeout, or run another essential errand? Use that time to practice driving with your teen.
Anecdotal evidence (along with a growing dataset) shows there are far less cars on the road, especially in major urban areas, as people shelter in place to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider using this time to teach your teen to drive. Fewer cars mean less congestion, and that can mean a safer, less anxiety-ridden experience for your teen driver.
Though requirements vary across states, it’s recommended that new drivers acquire about 50 hours of supervised driving before they start driving without an adult in the vehicle. Research shows that there’s no substitute for hands-on driving to create good driving habits in new drivers. A 2017 study cited in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention collected data on 90 teens and 131 parents in Virginia. Researchers found that “exposure to diverse roadways increased over the practice driving period,” a key predictor of safer teen driving habits, according to the study’s primary author, Dr. Johnathon Eshani. The more teens drove — with parents in the car — the more “errors decreased over time, suggesting improvements in manual and judgment skills.”*
Teaching teens to develop safer driving behaviors is the mission of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) Teens in the Driver Seat® (TDS) program, the first peer-to-peer program in the nation that focuses solely on teen driving safety. Begun in 2002 with sponsorship by the Texas Department of Transportation, TDS has since garnered support from other DOTs around the nation, public-sector entities like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and private-sector sponsors like State Farm, Union Pacific and General Motors.
TDS lays out the facts for teens and their parents to drive home the need for raising awareness of driving safety among young adults.
- Car crashes are the leading cause of death for young people, accounting for nearly one-third of all teen deaths in America each year.
- On a per-mile driven basis, teens are eight times more likely to die in their first six months of driving than adults.
- The five leading causes of teen deaths behind the wheel are distractions, including cell phones/texting and too many teen passengers; driving at night; speeding and street racing; not wearing a seatbelt; and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
TDS focuses on raising awareness of the five contributors to teen crashes and is currently active in more than 1,200 high schools and has educated more than one million students nationwide on the importance of developing good driving habits.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is horrific, but it also affords us an opportunity to avoid tragedy down the road,” states Russell Henk, TDS founder and program manager of TTI’s Youth Transportation Safety Program. “If you’re a parent sitting at home with a bored teen, now’s your opportunity to get them more driving practice and decrease their likelihood of being involved in a car crash in the future. Take a ride and save a life — maybe your own child’s.”
Unsure where to start or you need resources to help you teach your teen to drive? Check out the following resources:
Ride with Me Toolkit. This toolkit of activities empowers teens to engage with their parents and talk about what resources or assistance they need to stay safe as new drivers. Working through these activities with your teen — like the teen-parent agreement — can jumpstart a conversation about safe driving expectations, like when the teen should ask for help. You can then test out the theory in the real world with supervised driving experiences. | Download Ride with Me Toolkit
“During the pandemic, we’ve posted content for parents who want to teach their kids to drive while they’re at home together and urge them to continue that journey after their teen gets a driver license,” explains Stacey Tisdale, associate transportation researcher in TTI’s YTS Program. “Remember, teens are still learning after the parent leaves the car. Keep checking in and supporting your teenager, especially during the first full year of licensure.”
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) developed the TeenDrivingPlan Practice Guide to help teens become safer drivers under parental supervision. A free online resource, the guide provides specific driving goals, 54 short video tutorials, a goal-setting guide, and a driving log for parents. For more suggestions from CHOP experts, check out this article.
The AutoCoach Mobile App was created in partnership with the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, CapTech, and the Shepherd Center and helps parents teach teens how to drive safely. The AutoCoach app encourages parents to model safe driving behaviors for teens. The AutoCoach 2.0 version of the app includes specialized instruction for parents of teens with cognitive and physical disabilities. Download the app for free in the App Store (Apple) or from Google Play (Android).
Before the pandemic, it might have been a challenge to set aside the time to teach your teen how to drive, but without this supervised time, your teen’s life will be at greater risk — the statistics are clear. Nowadays, you might be looking for something constructive to fill the time. Know this simple truth: the more time you can spend with your teen behind the wheel, the more you decrease the chances they’ll become a safety statistic.
Of course, if local regulations prevent you getting on the road, you can still use the resources above for an at-home driving lesson with your teen. The pandemic has knocked the entire planet for a loop, but those of us fortunate enough to avoid the illness can use our time wisely. Teach your kids to drive, folks. You’ll never have more time — or safer roadways — to do it.
*Ehsani, J.P. et al. “Naturalistic assessment of the learner license period.” Accident Analysis & Prevention (Sept. 2017): 275-84.