Teens and Driving

Legal Blog

by Partner Matt Devoti

My Teen Is Ready to Drive.  Now What?

“Am I ready for this?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself that question over the past year.  My oldest daughter, Sophia, turned 16 this last month.  With that landmark, Soph moved from “permit driver” to “intermediate driver”.  The State of Missouri now allows her to drive without me – or any other adult – over its roads.

I know I’m not alone in worrying about Soph’s safety. I regularly speak with high school students about the dangers of distracted driving through my firm’s participation in the “End Distracted Driving” program.  I haven’t talked yet where a teacher, administrator or parent hasn’t approached me after the presentation to discuss their concern for the students and children in their lives.

So, what must we do as parents to prepare our teens and minimize those risks our sons and daughters will encounter on the road?

First, practice driving with your teen. Driving is a complex task for new and inexperienced drivers, including your teenage son or daughter.  Time with your teen while she’s learning the skills necessary to safely drive is absolutely essential.  Sit beside her while she drives, both before and after your child earns her license, offering both constructive criticism and support.  Soph hates my criticism, whether I’m suggesting that she’s driving too fast or taking turns too quickly.  But, my daughter always adjusts her driving.

Second, speak with and model safe driving practices for your teen. Prepare for your discussion by inventorying your own driving habits.  Be honest.  Ask yourself where you direct your attention when you’re behind the wheel.  Remember that you are the #1 teacher of your children, which means you must set a good example.  Know that your teen is always watching you when you’re behind the wheel.  So, if you’re not already doing so, set a good example.  Your example will reinforce those safe practices you discuss with your son or daughter.

Also, you must carefully monitor and direct your teen’s driving. In fact, some states require an adult approve a teen’s application for a driving permit.  Missouri requires the teen’s parent or guardian sign the teen’s application before the teen may obtain either an instruction permit or intermediate license.  In this way, you determine your teen’s readiness to drive rather than a day on the calendar.  Take an active role in your teen’s development as a driver and be familiar with her strengths and weaknesses before accompanying her to your local drivers’ license office.

Your participation in your teen’s development as a driver doesn’t end at the license office. Before handing over the keys to the family car, discuss your family’s rules as they relate to driving, curfews and your respective responsibilities during those early years when your teen is gaining driving experience.  Make sure that your teen understands that you will continue to monitor her driving.  Your message must be that driving is a privilege, a privilege that is constantly earned through the exercise of diligent and safe actions.

Monitoring becomes essential as your teen gains confidence and drives around with others in her car. My biggest fear for Sophia involves those situations where she’s driving either with other teens in the car or without purpose.

Data shows that car crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens age 15 through 20. And, teens crash at three times the rate of more experienced drivers.  The risk of injury resulting from car collisions for teen drivers is especially high between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a period dubbed the “100 Deadliest Days for Teen Drivers”.  Experts believe the following factors contribute to the deadliest days:

  • Summer driving tends to be more recreational and not as purposeful, such as driving to see friends rather than driving to school or work
  • Teen drivers carry friends more often and passengers increase the risk of a fatal crash involving a teen driver by at least 44 percent
  • Teens stay out later at night when crash risk surges and
  • Teen drivers may be tempted to speed with warmer weather and clear conditions.

No discussion about preparedness would be complete without reminding you of the need to properly insure your teen driver.

Your teen is a “permissive user” if she is driving your car with your permission.  However, you should still notify your insurance company when your teen driver receives her instruction permit.  Many policies require notice of the teen’s licensure once she will be regularly driving as a condition of insurability.  Be prepared to tell your agent or broker which vehicles your teen will be driving when you call.

The call to your agent is a tough one for most of us. Insuring a teen driver can be daunting.  However, options do exist that may save significant money for your family.  Some carriers offer discounts for teen drivers who have completed a driver safety course, maintain a certain grade point average (the “Good Student” discount) or show a commitment to their community by volunteering a particular number of service hours.  In these ways, planning ahead and encouraging your teen to work hard in school and investing in her neighborhood may benefit your family’s bottom line.

Natalie Bess, a St. Louis-based American Family agent, suggests that it is also beneficial to discuss coverage options available to your family before purchasing a vehicle for your child. Bess advises: “Often it is significantly cheaper to insure a teen who shares a car with another family member versus assigning a car to them.”  Bess also points out that you can save money by purchasing an older vehicle, especially if property or replacement coverages are bypassed because of the vehicle’s age.  Finally, Bess says that she encourages her clients to call her before a given vehicle model is purchased “so that we can price what options are available before the commitment has been made”.

Sophia earned her Missouri intermediate drivers’ license just a handful of weeks ago. My stomach turns with anticipation every time I see her get behind the wheel and buckle her seat belt.  But, I’m proud.  Soph is well prepared to handle herself on the road; she listens to instruction, continually heeds advice and remains constantly vigilant and focused on the primary task at hand – driving her car from Point A to Point B.

Am I ready for the independence provided by her drivers’ license? No.  But she is and we will continue to work to make sure that she remains prepared.

Matt Devoti is a partner with Casey & Devoti, a St. Louis-based personal injury law firm.  Matt and his law partner,  Matt Casey, are seasoned litigators who together have nearly 40 years of trial experience.  They specialize in personal injury matters, such as:  car, truck and train accidents, victims of impaired/distracted driving, medical malpractice, birth injuries, product and premises liabilityelder care and sexual abuse, Workers’ Compensation, and wrongful death.  Matt and Matt are also authorized speakers for EndDD.org’s ‘End Distracted Driving’ Awareness Campaign.  If you or a loved one has been injured by the negligence of another, call for a free consultation:                (314) 421-0763.

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