How do I know if my teen is ready to drive alone?

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One of the things that causes parents to worry the most is when their teens start driving. It is difficult to be objective about whether your teen is ready to drive alone. You can take the subjectivity out of the equation by walking through the following questions:

1) Has your teen completed the Washington state graduated driver program?

While Washington State’s graduated driver licensing (GDL) program does not prohibit teen drivers (with a valid license, not an instruction permit) from driving alone (except at night), it is best to ensure your teen has completed the GDL program before sending him/her off on her own.

2) Does your teen understand the importance of safe driving?

Many teenagers view driving as a sign of their independence and as a way to have fun away from their parents. If your teen sees driving as merely a joyride and does not appreciate the gravity of the harm that can come from his/her negligent actions, your teen is not ready to get behind the wheel alone.

3) Does your teen check his/her cell phone when driving?

Even if it has a hands-free mode, the safest practice is for your teen never to use his/her cell phone while driving. It can be a distraction, and with his/her limited amount of practice time behind the wheel, your teen might not be prepared to handle a sudden emergency driving situation if s/he is distracted by talking on the phone while driving.

While your teen likely will not use his/her phone while in the car with you, look at where s/he places the phone. Is it in his/her lap or tucked away in the center console? Where s/he places the phone might give you an idea of whether s/he will use the phone when driving alone.

Note: Under Washington State’s GDL laws, it is illegal for drivers with intermediate licenses to use a cell phone, even in hands-free mode.

4) Does your teen always use his/her seat belt, whether as a driver or a passenger?

Wearing seat belts saves lives and reduces the severity of injuries. If your teen does not wear a seat belt every single time s/he is in a car, regardless of whether s/he is a driver or a passenger, s/he does not demonstrate a sufficient appreciation for the harm that can occur in a car accident.

5) Does your teen follow safety rules consistently?

Does your teen consistently follow all relevant safety rules while driving, or does s/he cut corners on following safety rules? Many teens find safety rules to be boring and unnecessary things that get in the way of their having fun. A teen with this mindset is not ready to drive solo.

6) Does your teen tend to speed when driving?

Speed is one of the leading factors in fatal accidents involving teen drivers. If your teen has a “lead foot,” s/he may not be ready to drive alone. With the limited amount of time s/he has spent behind the wheel, s/he does not have the experience needed to handle sudden crises at high speed.

7) Does your teen make good decisions? 

Poor decision-making can have irreversible consequences when behind the wheel. It is better to wait until your teen consistently shows good decision-making skills before allowing him/her to drive solo.

8) How emotionally mature is your teen?

Teens tend to be all over the board in this subject. If your teen acts more grown up, it might be appropriate to allow him/her to drive alone. If not, it would be best to wait until your child has had time to mature, rather than risk a serious accident.

9) Have you been a good role model for your teen driver?

Regardless of what you have told your teen about safe driving habits, what kind of example have you been to your teen? Do you text while driving? Do you use your cell phone in standard mode, instead of hands-free mode? Do you always wear your seatbelt and consistently follow safety rules? Our children are more likely to do as we do, and not as we say.

Before you let your teen get behind the wheel alone, check out these tips for teen driving.

Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.