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Sam Is Driving
The cliché “they grow up so fast” really hit me earlier this month when my wife reminded me that our older son, Sam, is starting driver’s education this semester. “Why don’t you take Sam over to the middle school parking lot and let him drive a little bit?” she suggested.
My first thought was “Drive what?” It seemed like just last week that I was teaching him how to ride his bike, and now he’s going to drive my car? Then all the calls I’ve had with clients about their children learning to drive went from theoretical to alarmingly real.
According to the Illinois Secretary of State’s web site, there are 10.4 million vehicles registered in Illinois. That’s a lot of cars sharing the road, driven by people with varying degrees of experience and ability. Some of them may be texting and driving or impaired by drugs or alcohol, or some of them may just have been fired from their job or fought with their spouse. How will I keep my son safe, and how will I protect myself from mistakes he might make while behind the wheel?
Sometimes the best advice is the most obvious, but safe driving starts with some fundamentals:
From an insurance standpoint, you can’t do much to manage the increased cost that results from adding a teenage driver. However, there are a few things that can help:
- Set a good driving example for your child. Do you text and drive? Do you steer with your knees while drinking coffee with one hand and changing the radio station with the other? Do you roll through stop signs because there are too many of them in your neighborhood? It may be difficult to break some of these bad habits, but you will be a safer driver and a better example for your child.
- NEVER text and drive. In 2009, Car and Driver magazine conducted an experiment that compared the results of texting to the effects of drunk driving, on the same day and under the same driving conditions. Under controlled conditions and on a rented taxiway of a small airport, they found that texting while driving impaired a driver’s reaction time more than being legally intoxicated. Check out the article for yourself here.
- Fasten your seatbelt before you even pull out of driveway. Make sure you can see out of your windows. Properly adjust the rear-view and side-view mirrors. Turn off (or at least turn down) the radio. Learn the controls of the car before driving away. For example, how do you defrost the front windshield? What about the back windshield? How do you turn on the windshield wipers? Do you know how to operate all these auxiliary controls, and can you turn them on and off at 50 mph without taking your eyes off the road?
- Be a courteous driver. As a new driver, your son or daughter is going to make mistakes. Sometimes a simple “courtesy wave” to the other driver is all it takes to acknowledge a mistake and avoid an incident of road rage.
- Spend at least 100 hours in the car as your child’s instructor, and do so under varying conditions. If you get the opportunity, let your child drive in an empty, unplowed parking lot to practice skid control and recovery in the snow. Be patient, and provide constructive criticism. Set realistic goals, expectations and consequences for your new driver.
- Teach your child how to do simple maintenance to increase the safety of the vehicle, such as adding air to the tires or refilling windshield solvent. Make him or her aware of the gauges and warning lights that can indicate malfunctions of the engine, brakes or transmission.
If you have questions about adding a young driver to your policy – or about any other insurance question – contact me at 572-0800 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe we can trade stories.
- Most insurance companies offer a Good Student Discount. This can be a good way to manage your premium and encourage good grades, especially if you make your child pay the increased cost of losing the discount.
- If your son or daughter gets a ticket, do not simply pay the fine and move on. Speeding more than 25 mph over the limit is not uncommon on an interstate highway, but it is considered a major violation by most insurance companies and can trigger a non-renewal of the insurance.
- If you can avoid it, do not buy your child his or her own vehicle. When there are more drivers than vehicles in the household, your son or daughter is rated as an occasional or part-time operator. When there is an equal number of cars and drivers, your child is rated as a principal or full-time operator, which is more than double the cost of part-time status.
- Do not let your child's friends drive your vehicles -- and make that rule clear to your child. Insurance follows the vehicle, so if your son’s friend wrecks your car, the friend may get a ticket, but your insurance company will be paying the claim. Your rates may increase or, if the accident is severe, your policy could be non-renewed.