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Tips From Reid’s Dad, No. 1: Teen Drivers Home for the Holidays

I am delighted to be invited by The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility and its IKnowEverything program to offer Tips From Reid’s Dad -- pointers for parents of teen drivers.  We will strive to make this series right to the point and easy to follow.  We’ll start with a timely topic of the season:  What should parents do with their late teens/early 20’s students who come home for the holidays, briefly say hello to the family, and then want to jump in the car to reunite with friends?

This topic, of course, covers a wide range of situations, from those in their early 20’s who have been driving since they were 16 and have had a car throughout high school and college -- and may well have a claim to the three-to-five years of driving experience that experts say are usually enough to take a young driver out of the high risk range -- to those who only got a license during the summer before going off to school, did not have car at school,  and have not driven in several months.  So, parents need to adjust their oversight based on the situation.

But there are three best practices for parents that span each of these categories and all students in between.  The first and most important is to prevent joyriding - multiple teens in a car, out with no specific destination or other purpose than to have fun.  As during the summer months, the holidays are when we see teens piling into cars for the fun of it.  Parents need to understand the mountain of data showing that each passenger in a young driver’s car increases the crash risk, because passengers translate into driver risk-taking, distraction, peer pressure, and misconduct.  As hard as it may be to enforce, parents are well advised to allow their young drivers to drive from Point A to Point B for a purpose, but to just say “No” when a teen home from school asks -- or announces -- “I’m taking the car to go hang with my buddies for a few hours.”  Especially during the holidays, parents will be anxious to accommodate their teens, perhaps as a reward for working hard in school.  But the dangers of joyriding are huge and real.

The second best practice is to watch out for fatigue.  If a young driver arrives home after having stayed up three nights in a row to finish papers and taking exams, handing over the car keys then, or during the next several days, is a very bad idea.  Sleep patterns change when students go away to school.  Drowsy driving is a present danger and the hardest for parents to diagnose and control, because it changes constantly.  Parents need to say “No” to potentially drowsy drivers.

The final best practice, of course, is to manage the availability of alcohol.  The holiday season is party time.  Some states allow parents to provide alcohol to their own teens, but they need to bear in mind whether their students will then be driving.  Needless to say, zero tolerance for alcohol and following state laws need to be their rules always, but enforcing this rule is especially challenging during the holiday party season.

There is no need for any of these best practices to put a damper on the holiday spirit.  In a backhand but real way, saying “No” to a young driver who wants to drive with friends, drive without sufficient rest, or drive after drinking may be the best way for parents to truly welcome them home for  the holidays.

The following guest post was written by Tim Hollister, of Hartford, Connecticut.  Tim’s 17 year old some Reid died in a one-car crash in 2006.  Since then, Tim has gone on to become a nationally-known advocate for safer teen driving, first through his national blog for parents, “From Reid’s Dad,” www.fromreidsdad.org, and now in his new book “NOT SO FAST: Parenting your Teen through the Dangers of Driving,” published last month by the Chicago Review Press: www.nsfteendriving.com.

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility or any Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility member.*