It’s the most bittersweet of milestones. We can’t wait for it to finally get here, and then when it does, we find ourselves buckling under the impending stress and worry it brings. It’s the day when we finally have a child old enough to drive.
For many parents, this moment brings with it welcome relief from the seemingly never-ending taxi-ing duties we’ve had for years. I couldn’t wait to have a child drive himself to school and sports, allowing my schedule to open up and freeing me from constant chauffeuring demands. As for my son, his eagerness to hit the highway excited me, and I was relieved he was ready and willing to embrace his new freedom, rather than shy away from added responsibility.
But for us both, him driving would be unchartered territory, and one that would require a great deal of mutual trust and respect, as well as a deeper understanding of exactly how much of a privilege being able to drive a car truly is. I didn’t want my teen to simply assume because he reached driving age, that he had a “right” to drive. To get behind the wheel as a teen is as much a privilege as it is a right, and I wanted our first conversations about driving to be based on that fact, that at any time his “right” to drive could be taken away from him.
In the months right before he got his license, instead of talking about driving skills and road rules knowledge, I reminded him possessing a driver’s license was an actual mutual contract with the state we live in. And like all contracts, for him to be granted a driver’s license, he would be bound to follow the driving laws in our state, as well as any other situations he agreed to abide by when he received his license, ie. submitting to a Breathalyzer test. In addition, we talked about another contract he had responsibility in honoring- his car insurance policy. Finally, now that it was understood driving came with “contracts,” it was time to add one more- the parent/teenager driving contract.
For many parents, putting down on paper their teen driving expectations, rules, and consequences make the most sense. It did for us, as it became something we could refer back to again and again. This is especially important when teenagers try to “push their driving limits,“ which is inevitable at that age.
Having a contract that is written together, signed together, and one in which both parent and teen agree is “fair,” will not only save you from potential driving disagreements, it’s also a lesson in negotiation skills and teaching teenagers to stand behind their word.
When creating our driving contract, I wanted to make sure the rules set didn’t come across as only “my rules,” but that my teen understood these are basic driving rules that drivers of every age must abide by.
Our driving contract covered all the common sense rules, plus things like texting and drunk driving, but I also talked about distracted driving, a term we frequently hear now but that’s not clearly defined. We agreed on what he considered distractions (phone going off) and what I considered distractions (other teenagers in the car, loud music, driving while eating) how we would limit all of those, and at what point I would allow him to have other teenagers in the car with him.
Our contract also allowed for flexibility, as I knew there would be times one of my rules would have to be broken. For example, restricting any nighttime driving, only to have my son’s soccer game run late, leaving him driving home after dark without a choice.
You’ll find your teenager will be very receptive to a contract in which he has a lot of say in writing, as well as one that includes incentives after several months of safe driving. (Think more driving time, more freedom or having other teen passengers as rewards for safe driving.) It’s also vital that your contract include consistent and reasonable punishment when the contract is broken for any reason. Those may include traffic violations and tickets, caught speeding by neighbors, lying and having teens in the car, caught texting, etc. Those infractions would force loss of car temporarily, with a probationary type period when they get it back.
Keeping the driving contract “open,” and having random but important driving conversations continually going between my son and me have been one of my top priorities during this time. I’ll often tell him about something that happened to me on the road. It’s as easy as saying,
So the other day I was driving and I saw in front of me what looked like someone with road rage, so I slowed way down, allowing others to pass me, so I would be nowhere near an accident or an encounter with that driver. Have you seen ever seen what you think is road rage? What did you do?
Another example would be,
I was driving your brother home from practice the other day around 5:30 p.m., and drivers were driving like crazy people! Have you noticed at that time drivers seem more anxious because it’s the end of the work day and they just want to get home? Have you ever noticed how time of day affects how people drive?
Even after just a few weeks behind the wheel, my teen would tell me about odd driving situations he had encountered, and I knew it was because I had shared my experiences with him that it felt normal and natural to just talk “driving” stuff.
After significant time behind the wheel without incident, you and your driver can make serious amendments to the driving contract, or decide to get rid of it entirely. Try to decide beforehand how much time that will be- one year or two, when they leave for college, or when they begin taking over full payment of car insurance are all good options. You will both be relieved when that day comes, and you can fully hand over the keys with confidence- no contract required.
Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. She is on Facebook at 4BoysMother and on twitter at @melissarunsaway.