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Your teen has his driver's license — congratulations! All of those hours behind the wheel, patiently teaching him to drive have finally paid off. But you aren't off the hook yet. You need to educate yourself on the restrictions your state Department of Motor Vehicles places on that first driver's license. Whether there are curfews or restrictions on who can be a passenger in your teen's car, if your teen isn't obeying the law you may be liable if she is involved in an accident.
Restrictions save lives
Why do most states have driver's license restrictions? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death for U.S. teens. Just in 2010, about 2,700 teens in the U.S. between the ages of 16 and 19 were killed and another 282,000 were treated and released from emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes.
The 16- to 19-year-olds have a much higher risk of motor vehicle crashes than any other age group. CDC data shows that per mile driven, teen drivers in this age group are a staggering three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash. And the presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk — which increases with each additional teen passenger. Some parents even feel that additional restrictions make sense. "When my son was at the probation phase I really thought there should be restrictions to the distance they could travel and for freeway driving in general," shares Joanne, mother of a teen son. "My son had a friend who drove to the city [San Francisco] one Friday night while on probation and my son couldn't understand why I wouldn't let him do the same."
Are restrictions too much?
But what about when the restrictions seem unreasonable? "New Jersey has a law that states that all provisional license holders must put these foolish red reflective stickers on the cars that they are driving," shares Jackie, mother of an 18-year-old daughter. "We absolutely refused to put them on. My problem with these stickers is two-fold. First, they alert the police of the underage driver and, I'm sure, result in far more ticketing for other offenses associated with provisional license holders. My second problem is that, apart from alerting the police to the underage driver, they alert everyone. My fear was that she would be followed home one dark night by a person up to no good."
Jackie also feels that restrictions should be more flexible. "My daughter has a job that often resulted in her driving after 11 p.m.," she says. "It's only five minutes away and she always came right home. We allowed it. As far as the number of people in the car limit — it certainly discourages kids from joyriding with a bunch of their friends, but it should be modified. Driving two kids home from school at 3 in the afternoon is a completely different story than shoving five of them in the car to tool around town at 9 p.m.," she adds.
Parents who look the other way
Why do many parents not expect their teens to obey the laws? We found three reasons that are the most common.
- My teen is a safe driver
- We didn't have restrictions when we were teens, and we were fine
- It's too inconvenient
"Very few kids follow the rules," says Suzanne, mother of three. "They start driving their friends around right away. Not our kids of course, which makes us the strict ones," she adds. "Parents know they are doing it and look the other way — I guess they figure their kid won't get pulled over for it?" Parents who choose to allow their teens to break the probationary license laws make it more difficult for parents who expect their teens to follow the law. "I knew of no other parents in our daughter's group of friends who let their teen disobey the laws," shares Mary, mother of two. "It is a great help when the parents are all on the same page."
Parents speak out
What do parents who have been there, done that have to say? "This is one area where we saw no gray, only black and white," says Mary Dell, mother of two. "Being a safe and good driver comes from experience which no new driver has, by definition. Driving only up to 9 p.m. and without other kids in the car to minimize distraction is so completely reasonable that I find it difficult to think there could be any objections."
"I did expect him [her son] to follow the state guidelines," shares Natalie, mother of three. "Ours [Tennessee] is set up to only allow one extra passenger that's not a family member. I also know that he broke the rule a few times and he was told if he was ever pulled over because of it, he would be responsible for the cost of the ticket and also would then be paying for his insurance," she adds.
Mary, mother of two, has a teen who is currently learning to drive. "She's currently taking driver's ed, but her school/extracurricular schedule is so busy that we haven't had time to get the required physical exam," she shares. "When she does finally obtain her driver's license, it'll be a junior grade for the first year. And yes, we will most definitely abide by all of the state's rules."
"We enforce," says Joy, mother of four. "Teen son balks sometimes, but even following rules, accidents can still happen." Her son recently had an accident, but thankfully nobody was injured. "It's tough, and requires as much commitment from us as it does him. Son is an honor student with a 4.0 GPA, and ordinarily super responsible. But as you can see, accidents happen in a moment of relaxed vigilance," she adds.
"I think the probationary license rules are a good idea," shares Phil, father of two. "We've instilled in him [their son] that, while following the rules may be inconvenient, they are what they are. Now, as for the stipulation of the law not allowing him to drive his brother for the first year, that had always been a mixed opinion for me. It probably is for the best, but I'm telling you all that [my wife and I] cannot wait until he turns 17 next month so he can take himself and his brother to school and other activities," he adds. "He is ready to do so and we'll be glad!"
Share with us!^ What do you think? Do you enforce probationary driver's license laws with your teens?