YES, he passed! -- Oh NO ... he passed

Posted on 01 December 2017

Congratulations; you passed – those three simple words change the game for parents and their young drivers in more ways than one. In addition to a significant lack of experience, newly licensed P-Platers face many driving distractions, including: peer passengers, late night fatigue, eating/drinking, grooming, music, satellite navigation and of course, mobile phones.

Testing standards are somewhat challenging; however the examiner has only a relatively short amount of time to assess your teen against key performance criteria. Don't allow your son or daughter's birthday and test result be the ONLY evidence of their readiness to drive unsupervised – trust your parental instincts. Even though they may pass a thirty minute driving test after demonstrating their knowledge of some road rules and an ability to control a vehicle – they still are, and will continue to be for quite some time, a 'novice driver' – in fact, on the day they pass the driving test they will transition from the safest they will ever be behind a steering wheel to statistically, by FAR, the most dangerous 6-12 month period of their driving life.

Some parents associate their teenager passing the driving test with crossing a finish line. The reality is, at this stage, they are closer to a metaphorical start line than a finish line. While a parent's chaperoning duties decrease significantly, their teen's responsibilities skyrocket.

P-Platers possess relatively limited driving ability and judgement, and many teenagers underestimate risk and knowingly engage in risky behaviours – especially males. Their new solo driving status provides them with numerous opportunities - unfortunately one of them is the opportunity for risk.

Does your teenager or their peers possess an appetite for risk-taking in other areas of life? There is international data that shows for every similar aged passenger you add to a vehicle with a teen driver, the chance of a crash incrementally increases. Statistics show that adult drivers however, are at no further risk of crashing when driving with additional peer passengers.

As parents, we generally don't want to hover over our adolescent's every move. We understand that risk-taking is a normal part of their wiring and overall development; however, we can have some control over the odds by managing their 'risk opportunity' during this precarious stage. Graduated licensing schemes have proven to be by far the most effective way to reduce serious young driver crashes. Parents have an opportunity to broaden government provisional licensing regulations. During the first few months consider limiting the amount of teenage passengers they may carry and imposing weather, location, and night driving restrictions.

Discourage 'just cruising with the boys' type journeys during this vulnerable period – it's safer to restrict it to point-to-point trips as greater risk accompanies joyriding. Try to delay them owning their own vehicle. If possible, share the family car - it will enable you to control access to the vehicle and set conditions of its use. Research has shown adolescents tend to exercise more caution when the car isn't theirs. Talk to them about the dangers of driving tired, upset or angry. Discuss Plan B options - let them know that they can always call you.

Delaying novice drivers from owning their own car is not always an option and some parents form the view that it's better for their newbie to drive an older vehicle initially because there's a possibility they will collide with something - so therefore it makes more sense to trash an old jalopy than a new vehicle. Their rationale is sound in that they certainly are statistically FAR more likely to be involved in a crash in the initial 6-12 months of unsupervised driving, however that's the very reason why it's paramount they drive the safest vehicle possible during that time. Once we place safety higher than economics on our list it doesn't take long to realise it makes zero sense for the most vulnerable driver in our family to be driving the most unsafe car in our household. Older vehicles simply don't possess the safety features of their late model contemporaries. Carefully investigate safety ratings and insist on features such as anti-lock braking (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC) and side airbags. Research indicates midsize vehicles, as opposed to small, are generally the safest option for inexperienced drivers.

Finally, your own driving experiences leave you well placed to offer practical assistance to your greenhorn. So, before they drive off unsupervised for the first time ensure you have prepared them for the many variables that aren't generally covered during driving lessons – here are (5) items worth sharing:-

  1. Demonstrate how to change a flat tyre - or if that's not for them, how to stay safe whilst waiting for roadside assistance to arrive. Sadly there have been many tragic instances of people killed whilst changing tyres or sitting in stationary vehicles in dangerous traffic situations.
  2. Demonstrate how to check and adjust tyre pressures.
  3. Show them how to check fluid levels.
  4. Explain the practical, legal and moral process to follow at the scene of a crash.
  5. Discuss road rage and how to avoid buying into another road user's bad day.

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