by Diane Turner Maller and Teresa Farkas
Anticipating your teen’s readiness to get behind the wheel is a modern day coming of age ritual. Whether the teen is bold or timid about the prospect of driving, the journey from passenger to licensed driver can seem like a confusing maze of driver education combined with responsibility and character development.
The rules and regulations are always changing, and Georgia is no exception. Even Susan Yarbrough of Snellville, who’s been through the process five times with her kids, met some challenges when it was time for her sixth, Stephen, to take the driver’s test.
“Be sure to make an appointment far in advance,” Yarbrough says. “We woke up at 5:30 a.m. to be the first one there, and next thing we know a man is running out of his car to skip us in line.” Yarbrough didn’t realize it was necessary to make an appointment at the Department of Driver Services.
Appointments for obtaining a license need to be made up to six months in advance to secure a spot; otherwise, you’re standing in line early and hoping for the best. Yarbrough had to return a second time with Stephen.
“On our second attempt to get Stephen’s license, we were first in line and realized we forgot to bring the certificate he received after taking the Alcohol and Drug Awareness Program through his school,” Yarbrough said. “We found a copy at home and thankfully he was allowed to get back in line.”
It is easy to feel intimidated by the process of getting a license, and by the risk involved in driving. Car crashes are the number one cause of death for teens, about 3,000 young lives every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Inexperience is the leading cause.
As the most important influence in the lives of teens learning to drive, parents can make a critical difference. Here are a few “Rules of the Road” to follow.
Find a way for the teen to have a voice about when they are ready for the responsibility of driving. Make sure a timeline is set up between you and your child, so you both understand when the test will be taken. In Georgia, Joshua’s Law requires that if you have not completed an approved driver’s education course, you cannot get your driver’s license until you reach 17.
Start the conversation about safe driving early and recognize the rules and driving laws have changed since you acquired your license. Make regular time available to supervise your teen’s driving or enroll your child in one of Atlanta’s driving schools. Georgia requires at least 40 hours of supervised driving and completion of an approved education course to obtain a driver’s license.
Nothing will bring a teen’s attention to the present moment like a traffic situation that requires the driver to hit the brakes and stop quickly. Everyone will need to take a deep breath when that happens. Coach your teen to notice the immediate surroundings and scan in all directions. The Tire Rack Street Survival course, sponsored by the BMW CCA Foundation, is offered once a year in Atlanta. This challenging course may help your child learn to overcome major obstacles on the road. “My daughter Sara was hesitant about taking the Tire Rack Street Survival course, but soon discovered it was not only fun but also very informative. She now feels more prepared to conquer the challenges she may face on the roads,” says Maryann Lozano of Chamblee.
Defensive driving is more than a set of skills. It is an attitude that underlies the constant decisions your teen will make while driving. In addition to learning to adjust to varying road conditions and traffic situations, your teen will need to adjust for other drivers who do not follow the rules.
Just as the driver’s manual says, “Driving is a privilege.” This concept may be the most important one for your teen to learn. Abusing the privilege can lead to harm or result in tragedy. Sometimes teens do not realize how much responsibility driving requires.
The state of Georgia now uses a graduated licensing system designed to increase the safety of teen drivers. For the initial six-month period immediately following the issuance of a Class D license, a teen driver may not have passengers in his or her car that aren’t immediate family members. Families can choose to set more specific rules and limits for their teen drivers. For example, you may want your teen to be off the road by 8 p.m. even though the legal requirement is midnight. In addition to an ongoing conversation, parents may find it helpful to set specific rules and limits in a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement. An example can be found at cdc.gov/ParentsAreTheKey/agreement.
Practice tests are available on the Georgia DDS website to give a taste of what will be encountered in the computerized Road Signs and Road Rules test. Also make sure the vehicle used for testing is one that your teen feels comfortable driving and carries current registration and insurance cards.
Some driving schools also offer the convenient option of taking the driving test at the school instead of at DDS. Your child will be taking the test with someone they are familiar with and you will not have to make an appointment at DDS. You simply take the completed certificate and required documents to receive your license.
Teens should focus on their driving when they arrive for test day. Often young people are distracted by texting or Web browsing. They may be sleepy. Being prepared goes a long way toward making the driver test a positive experience.
And that goes for parents, too. Rules and requirements for teens can change from year to year.
“You would think after seven children I would finally learn how to master the process, but it changes so frequently it is important to be up to date,” Yarbrough says. “My daughter will take the driver’s test in the spring and you better bet this time we will be prepared.”