By Lisa Katz
For teen drivers (and their parents!), it can be overwhelming to get behind the wheel for the first time. It can also be extremely risky. The best thing for a new driver is to feel comfortable, knowledgeable and prepared, and it is your role as the parent to get your teen ready, whether you teach her yourself or enroll her in a class.
In order to feel comfortable driving, your teen will need experience. Florida law states that a new driver must have a minimum of 50 hours of practice driving, of which 10 hours must be at night, before she can even apply for a license. The more often you allow your new driver to practice, the more comfortable she will feel about driving.
There are a few important rules of proper behavior to consider in aiding safety, especially for a new teen driver. Steve Milo, a driving instructor at North Central Florida Safety Council, recommended that parents communicate these with their teens before handing over those car keys.
1. Limit the number of passengers in the car. Too many (even one extra person) can be very distracting.
2. Limit driving at nighttime to when both the parent and the teen feel more comfortable.
3. Limit driving on the highways as well. Consider starting in an empty parking lot and slowly move up to highways.
4. Be smart about the weather. Florida rains can be crazy. If you cannot see well, safely pull over to the side of road.
5. Take note of the car’s dashboard. If you see any unusual things lit up or blinking, safely pull over and call a parent, a car dealership or someplace you can take the car for maintenance.
It goes without saying that parents should stress the importance of never texting while driving. Cellphone use should be limited to when the car is in park.
DRIVER EDUCATION PROGRAMS TO CONSIDER
Alachua County Teen Driver Challenge
This is a free program for teen drivers that reside in Alachua County and have their learner’s permit. It consists of four hours of classroom instruction as well as an additional four hours of hands-on experience. Staff members of the Alachua County Sheriff’s office conduct this defensive driving training day.
North Central Florida Safety Council
This “Behind the Wheel Driving” course is a seven-hour program designed by state-certified instructors. With only one student in the car and one instructor, it offers an excellent opportunity for driver education and training. The instructor’s car also has a dual-controlled brake for safety. The program costs $450.
Alachua County Public School Driver Education
This semester-long course is offered through your teen’s public high school. If you prefer to take this course during the summer or in the evening, there is a $40 fee. Otherwise it is free for students. Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles train the instructors. At the end of this course, the driver will have received one-on-one training, classroom instruction and half a credit toward graduation requirements.
STATISTICS TO BE AWARE OF
Below are the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles 2016 statistics involving teen drivers.
The sum of crashes involving a teen driver = 45,279
ALACHUA COUNTY HAD 670
The sum of all injuries in teen crashes = 34,094
ALACHUA COUNTY HAD 653
The sum of all fatalities in teen crashes = 262
ALACHUA COUNTY HAD 2