by Gary Direnfeld

Whenever we get behind the wheel of a car we begin the process of risk assessment. This is why we look behind before backing up, or look both ways before entering the roadway. We are determining issues of risk before we take action.

Often, we are also trying to determine how much risk can we get away with. If the speed limit is 50 we may be thinking about going 55, or 60, or more. We think about our choices and the likely consequences of each choice. We say to ourselves, “I think I can get away with this much” and then see if we are right.

At age 46, I am 28 years older than my son. I have 30 years of independent driving experience. I have driven in all seasons and in all driving conditions and on all kinds of roadways. I have witnessed collisions and their aftermath. My risk assessment is based on 30 years of driving experience. This makes me very similar to many other parents of teen drivers.

This is totally unlike a new teen driver though.

We speak of lack of judgment when it comes to teen drivers. Lack of judgment means that teens do not have the same depth of experience on which to base their risk assessment. As such they may make a less than adequate decision. This lack of experience and lesser judgment tends not to be recognized by teens. They cannot see what they never had, or are yet to develop. They cannot appreciate their lack of experience and as such will argue that they are fully capable of assessing risk as capably as older adults.

Teens have a marvelous capacity for language. They have just spent the past several years in high school and elementary school before that. Some convince their parents that they do know more than their actual experience has taught.

Some parents think that because they trust their teen or because their teen is generally good or because the teen is convincing, that their teen will exercise good judgment in the use of the car. However, parents are cautioned to remember that their teen’s good judgment just doesn’t have the wealth of experience to back it up. No matter how good or well-meaning the teen, they simply are not fully equipped for the responsibility and management of a motor vehicle under all circumstance. Teens simply do not possess the judgement of adults. They can’t.

This is well known to insurance companies. Insurance companies do not consider young persons experienced until about age 25 because their crash statistics show that this is the age when crashes start to significantly decline.

Insurers also know that the first year of driving remains the most risk filled point in a young person’s life. Teen driver car crashes are the leading cause of permanent injury and death in teens and the first year of driving is the most dangerous.

Parents must talk with their teens and set limits and determine responsibilities, expectations and restrictions on the use of the car to reduce the risk of their child’s involvement in a crash. Parents do know better and it’s not until the teen is over age 25 that they will truly understand or appreciate the actions taken by their parents.

Parents are well advised to restrict the number of passengers allowed in the vehicle. Additional passengers may be allowed for each year of driving experience. Parents must insist that their teen buckle-up and parents must do so too. If your teen intends on being out after midnight, continue to give them a ride as you did before they got their license. It is better to lose some sleep than pick your teen up at the hospital or morgue. Go for a drive with your teen and discuss the use of the radio or car stereo. Turn it on and figure out an acceptable limit for the volume.

Lastly, don’t let the tail wag the dog. Remember, your car, your rules. Your responsibility as a parent continues to be the safety of your child until they are truly independent.

Our son has now been driving 18 months and so far without incident. He must tell us where he is going and when he is returning each time he uses the car. He is restricted to only 3 passengers at this point (zero for the first month and building from there). He cannot use the car after midnight. When asked, he will tell us he doesn’t like our rules. Happily for us, he tells us each time after arriving home safely. When he’s older we think he will see the irony in that. Will your teen? Gary Direnfeld is Executive Director of the ‘I Promise Program’, a safe driving program for teens that promotes parents as role models. Visit or e-mail Gary at

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