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Ask The Expert: My Teen Daughter is a Terrible Driver

Dear Your Teen:

I have a 16-year-old daughter who drives herself to an early-college program after school and also has a part-time job. My husband and I have no choice but to let her drive because we both work full time. We purchased a used vehicle for our daughter, but she has recently been in two accidents, one of which wrecked the car. My husband and I are hesitant to purchase another car because we are concerned that she is a danger on the road, not only to herself, but also to other drivers.

Can you please provide a suggestion as to how best to handle this? Can she improve driving, or should she not drive at all?

EXPERT | Anne Marie Hayes

Teaching your teenager to drive can be very challenging. I’m glad your daughter and her passenger weren’t injured in these incidents.  You’ve made a lot of good decisions, including not risking a more tragic result by immediately purchasing a replacement vehicle.

People fail (anything) for two reasons: 1. They don’t care (but your daughter is clearly very motivated to drive); and 2. They don’t have the knowledge or skills to be successful.

Passing the driver’s test is a very low bar when it comes to assessing the skills of teenage drivers. Driving is a life skill and your daughter needs help with it. If your daughter was failing one of her courses, what would you do?  You would probably get her a tutor and help her study. I’d recommend you take the same approach with teenage drivers.

2 Steps Toward Safer Driving:

1. Invest in more practice.

To this end, it’s time to find the best driving school (not the cheapest!) you can. Then ask for the best instructor and invest in at least 5 or 6 hours of driver coaching. Have the instructor concentrate on scanning, mirror-use, and leaving sufficient space around the vehicle. A good school will allow you or another person who will practice with her to sit in the back seat and watch. (You will be there as an observer and will not be able to talk). Then practice, practice, practice until you are both comfortable that she is using the skills she learned.

2. Eliminate distractions.

I also recommend you rethink allowing her to have a teen passenger in the car with her. Passengers are a huge distraction for teens. Put together an agreement with enforceable consequences that covers cell phone use, speeding, and other issues.  You’ll find a good template at www.TeensLearntoDrive.com. Both of you sign it. Then she’ll be ready to continue to drive.

In the meantime, find a friend or family member that can help shuttle her between schools. People are out there. Uber has made a business of finding them (you could even consider using a ride-share service like Uber). She can use the money from her part-time job to pay them. Make sure they have good driving skills before you sign them up.

Anne Marie Hayes

Anne Marie Hayes is a certified driving instructor and author of 3 Keys to Keeping Your Teen Alive: Lessons for Surviving the First Year of Driving. Learn more at TeensLearntoDrive.com.