USA Today: Teens, parents differ on graduated driver’s licenses

By Jaklitsch Law Group of Jaklitsch Law Group on Sunday, October 6, 2013.


Graduated Driver Licensing programs, in which young drivers earn privileges as they gain experience under the watchful eye of their parents, have become a crucial part of the nation’s effort to ease teenagers through those dangerous first years of driving.

Every state has a GDL law, and experts agree that the best ones require buy-in from teen and parent to ensure that critical restrictions on such things as nighttime driving, teen passengers and texting are enforced.

But a new survey released by insurer State Farm indicates that parents and teen drivers have sharply different views of how well those restrictions are being enforced, which could be undercutting the programs’ effectiveness.

For example, 87% of parents believe teens will obey GDL restrictions because of parental monitoring, but just 56% of teens say they’re likely to do so.

When it comes to nighttime restrictions, which are designed to keep teens off the roads during riskier periods, 66% of parents say they almost always monitor whether their teens are obeying the rules; only 32% of teens say that’s the case.

The findings are from an online survey in June of 500 parents of 14- to 17-year-old teen drivers, and 500 teen drivers age 14 to 17.

The parent-teen disconnect is even more jarring on passenger restrictions. The crash risk doubles for a teen driver with two young passengers and quadruples with three or more young passengers if no older passengers are in the vehicle, according to 2012 research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Yet in the new survey, just 27% of teens said their parents usually keep track of whether they are following the rule on passengers, compared with 65% of parents who said they monitor.

Some experts say the survey might highlight an element of willful denial among some parents. In most GDL programs, teens are required to get at least 30 hours of parent-supervised practice; then they move into the intermediate, provisional licensing stage, when they can drive alone but the nighttime and passenger restrictions apply. That is the riskiest time for novice drivers, but weary parents often pull back.

“Parents have been taxicab drivers for over 16 years,” says Capt. Tom Didone of the Montgomery County, Md., Police Department. “They look at (provisional licensing) as an opportunity to allow their kids independence, to make their life easy. Parents don’t understand that this can happen to them.” His 15-year-old son, Ryan Thomas Didone, was killed in 2008 after getting into a car with several other teens and an inexperienced teen driver.

Some teens might be misleading parents by leaving home with one or no passengers and then picking up other teens, whose parents are also in the dark, says Sharon Baker, 53, of Seville, Ohio. “You have to build that trust with your kids,” says Baker, an advocate for strong GDL laws since her only child, daughter Kelli, 17, was killed in a 2011 crash.

It’s important for parents to actually monitor teen drivers, to regularly discuss the GDL rules and to establish clear consequences for violations, says Raygan Sylvester, 17, a senior at North Little Rock, Ark., High School. She’s a cop’s daughter and says: “If I get caught with more than one person in the car, my car will be taken away for a certain amount of time. If I got caught texting, I would definitely get my keys taken away and probably my phone taken away.”

Parents and teens have different opinions on why some young drivers don’t follow GDL rules. Parents think peer pressure is the biggest motivator for those who ignore the restrictions; teens say the most likely reason is their belief that they won’t get a ticket.

Chief Chris Wagner of the Denville, N.J., Police Department says the teens’ view reflects their sense of invulnerability but also shows the need for police to enforce GDL laws. “If a police officer pulls over a teen driver at night with four teenagers in the car and then lets them go with a warning, that’s akin to letting a drunk driver drive down the road with a warning,” he says.

There was one encouraging finding in the State Farm survey. The national focus on distracted driving is paying off: 82% of parents believe their teens are obeying bans on texting while driving; 72% of teens say that they are – a higher compliance rate than for any other GDL provision.

Chris Mullen, State Farm’s director of technology research, says the survey can help experts establish effective GDL programs. “This is not an evaluation of GDL,” she says. “This is an evaluation of awareness. It looks like parents and teens are disconnected. So we should be asking the question, ‘Do we talk enough?'”


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