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Many parents don’t realize it, but the No. 1 threat to their teen’s safety is driving or riding in a car with a teen driver. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. More than 2,300 teens ages 16–19 lost their lives in car crashes in 2017; that’s six teens a day.

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws have been proven to prevent teen driver crashes. Graduated driver licensing involves a three-phase strategy to introduce driving privileges to new drivers while they gain experience.

The first phase (learner) allows teens the opportunity to gain experience while being closely supervised by an adult.

The second phase (probationary/intermediate) gives a new driver the opportunity to drive alone, but with certain restrictions designed to limit exposure to high-risk conditions.

The third phase (full licensure) allows teens to drive alone without restrictions.

Joshua’s Law was enacted in 2005. Among other things, it requires all teens under the age of 17 who apply for a Class D Georgia driver’s license to show proof that they successfully completed a DDS-approved driver education course from a certified driver training school.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Parents are the Key program gives parents tools to use with their teens including a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement. It serves as a talking point and a visual agreement between parents and teens regarding the expectations and how both sides will work to keep the teens accident free.

According to the CDC, parents should take these steps to help keep their teen safe on the road:

♦ Ride along with your teen for at least 30–50 hours. Teens lack driving experience; therefore, the more they practice, the better.

♦ Practice with your teen at different times of the day, in different kinds of weather, and in heavy and light traffic.

♦ Watch closely and make suggestions on how your teen can improve. Be sure to compliment them when they do well.

♦ Restrict your teen’s nighttime driving, and make sure your teen is off the road by 9 or 10 pm for at least the first six months they have a license.

♦ Limit your teen to zero or one young passenger for at least the first six months they have a license.

♦ Discuss your rules of the road with your teen. Create a parent-teen driving agreement or download the document from the CDC site that puts these rules in writing to set clear expectations and limits.

♦ Require your teen to wear a seat belt on every trip. It is the simplest way to prevent car crash injuries and deaths.

♦ Be a good role model for your teen and always buckle up! This also includes how you respond to other drivers while you are driving. Do you yell if someone cuts you off? Do you criticize other drivers? Teens learn attitudes from you as well so curb your comments.

There are a variety of free apps for phones that parents can download to monitor teen drivers. They include: Safe Driver, DriveSafe.ly, Textecution, and Life 360 to name just a few. Most of them can help parents track their teens’ location as well as locking the texting capability of the teens’ phones and much more. Research these tools and discuss the capabilities of the app you select with your teen.

Remind your teen that driving is a privilege, not a right, and that they must demonstrate they are responsible enough to keep that privilege. If a rule is broken, have a logical and reasonable consequence for it that you enforce consistently.

Parents can also benefit by reduced insurance premiums so be sure to check with your carrier for any good student discounts. Using these tools, parents can better ensure their teens will be safer while driving and that means peace of mind for everyone.

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Mary Migliaro is an educator, parenting mentor and consultant who lives in Cherokee County.

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