How Parents Can Enforce Graduated Driver Licensing Laws at Home
March 26, 2009
Parents typically feel ambivalent when their teens receive their driver’s licenses. They appreciate the freedom from being their teen’s sole source of transportation, but they worry that their teens won’t be able to handle the corresponding freedom of being behind the wheel on their own. In most states, teens’ freedom is limited by Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws. But many parents are unaware of these laws or, if they are aware of them, fail to implement them as house rules.
This is a mistake. Enforcing GDL laws as house rules is an excellent tool for parents, who have the support of an existing law, the need for which and the efficacy of which is fully supported by research. Enforcement of the law by the police, while somewhat irregular in some states, is a very real possibility and could result in legal consequences for the teen. This gives parents additional support from an outside source when enforcing the law in their own households.
The first step in implementing your state’s GDL law is to become familiar with it. The law is typically detailed in the first or second chapter of the driver handbook. Many states post their driver handbooks online. You can also find information on GDL laws at your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or Department of Public Safety website. Once you locate the information, save or bookmark it for future reference. GDL laws change as teens mature and gain experience (the “graduated” in Graduated Driver Licensing).
The next step is to help your teen understand the importance of following GDL laws. Begin a dialogue with your teen before she or he even has a learner’s permit. Ask your teen to tell you why she or he thinks GDL laws exist. This helps your teen think and allows them to educate themselves about the process. Make sure your teen understands that GDL laws exist not only to protect teens from themselves, but to protect them from other teens. Your teen needs to follow GDL laws whether she or he is the driver or a passenger. Remind your teen that GDL laws become less stringent as the teen demonstrates responsible driving behavior – it’s not just about having another birthday.
Next, incorporate your state’s GDL laws into your house rules. For example, newly licensed drivers are typically restricted from driving during certain hours. You can ensure that your teen obeys the law by integrating these time limits into your teen’s curfew.
Finally, establish penalties for violating the GDL law or receiving a traffic ticket, whether the violation is for disobeying the GDL law or another offense. Be clear about the penalties from the beginning and relate them to driving by withdrawing driving privileges or enforcing new limits on driving. Help your teen understand all the ramifications of receiving a ticket, such as points on the license, fines, insurance increases, and failure to achieve the next stage in the GDL process.
Enforcing the GDL law in your household is a valuable tool that will help ensure your teen’s safety behind the wheel.
Restricting Your Teen’s Access to Alcohol: A Guide for Parents
March 19, 2009
Restricting your teen’s access to alcohol is one of the most important things you can do for them as a parent. There are highly-publicized risks of fatal alcohol poisonings and devastating car crashes due to drinking and driving, for example. But there are other, less-publicized risks that could be equally destructive to your teen’s health and well-being, such as increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy, violence and rape, and suicide.
Teens are ill-equipped to handle the physical, mental or emotional consequences of drinking alcohol, but they have poor impulse control and a sense of invincibility and must contend with overwhelming peer pressure. They need consistent support and structure from their parents if they are going to avoid alcohol and its attendant repercussions.
Here are some guidelines for developing a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol for your children:
- Start an ongoing dialogue early about alcohol: the risks, the ramifications, and your desire for your teen not to use alcohol. Emphasize abstinence from alcohol as part of your overall value system. Ask for a commitment not to use alcohol.
- Offer praise for good decisions and guidance for mistakes. Working together to rectify a bad grade can be good practice for dealing with bigger problems in the future.
- Help teens set short-term and long-term goals. Relate their goals to their physical endurance, mental acuity, and emotional fitness. Ask them how they think using alcohol could keep them from achieving their goals.
- Invite mentors and other people your teen would not want to disappoint into the dialogue. Ask them to support your efforts to encourage abstinence from alcohol.
- Train your children to ask, “Is it worth the risk?” Make sure they can apply the potential consequences you’ve discussed to real-life scenarios. Discuss the situations of people you know or those of people in newspaper and magazine articles and ask your teen to help you list the problems they have encountered as a result of drinking alcohol.
- Model good behavior where alcohol is concerned. While it is true that it is legal for you to drink alcohol, teens have very little tolerance for what they perceive as hypocrisy, and they often fail to make distinctions when making judgments.
- Keep alcohol locked up and out of sight. Many adolescents, and even pre-adolescents, begin experimenting with alcohol in their own homes.
- Monitor situations where temptation can occur: for example, when your teen participates in unsupervised group activities or attends events, such as weddings, where alcohol is being served to adults.
- Limit your teen’s attendance at parties, both in number and in length of time spent. Make a pact to pick your teen up at any time, from any place, with no questions asked until the following morning when you are both calm. Limit sleepovers unless they are at your house under your supervision.
- Communicate with the parents of your teen’s friends. Ask what they are doing to ensure that the children don’t have access to alcohol when they are under their supervision. Share situations (not names) that you have discussed with your teen; their responses will help you determine whether or not you are on the same wavelength regarding teens and access to alcohol. Tell them you welcome feedback on how your child behaves when you are not present and that you will not reveal the source of the information.
- Observe other parents’ efforts to restrict minors’ access to alcohol. Offer to help chaperone at events your child will attend. Be careful – even “good people” have erroneous ideas about teaching teens to “drink responsibly” under their supervision. Make sure your teen understands that even if another parent is allowing the use of alcohol, your teen does not have your permission to partake and should come home immediately.
- Keep your teen busy. Kids often get into trouble when they have too much unsupervised free time. Invest time and effort into helping your teens find safe, fun ways to spend their time, such as participating in faith-based activities.
- Adopt a trust-but-verify policy. Even “good kids” can find themselves in difficult situations. Your teen doesn’t have the benefit of your years of wisdom and experience. Explain the risks of being in the wrong situation; even if your teen doesn’t drink, being present at a party where teens are drinking can have serious consequences. Monitor your teen’s – and your teen’s friends’ – Facebook and MySpace pages.
And, last but certainly not least, realize that your teen is vulnerable to making poor choices every day. Don’t let your guard down. Finding a balance between being too controlling and allowing too much freedom will require constant effort, but it is a worthwhile endeavor. Your teen’s health and happiness may depend on it.
Spring Break Safety – How to Identify an Impaired Driver
March 18, 2009
Many spring breakers drive to and from their vacation destinations. Spring break drivers are often relatively inexperienced due to their youth and may have difficulty navigating hazardous driving situations. One way to manage the risk is to spot impaired drivers early so you can increase your space cushion. This way, if the impaired driver causes a crash, you are much less likely to be part of it.
Although the term “impaired” typically refers to drivers who are under the influence of alcohol, for the purposes of this article, it refers to any driver who is exhibiting difficulty with the driving process. A driver may be “impaired” by drowsiness, confusion, distractions inside or outside their vehicle, aggression, talking on a cellular phone, or a variety of other causes. For those who are sharing the road with an impaired driver, the most important issue is that the other driver is impaired; the specific reason isn’t as significant, because the reactions of other drivers should be the same regardless of the source of the impairment.
You should scan the general behavior of other vehicles when you search the driving scene, noticing any drivers who are:
- Drifting within their lane
- Speeding or driving at erratic speeds (speeding up, then slowing suddenly)
- Weaving in and out of lanes
- Exhibiting odd behavior, such as stopping for a green traffic light
- Displaying aggressive behavior, such as following too closely
Once you recognize that a driver is impaired, you must increase the amount of space between your vehicle and theirs. Motorists are often tempted to pass a driver who may be impaired, but this option is dangerous because it decreases the space between you and the impaired driver, even if only temporarily. The point of identifying impaired drivers is to note their unpredictability. If the impaired driver makes another mistake while you are passing, you could be involved in a crash.
Take the following actions when you recognize an impaired driver:
- Reduce your speed. This will increase your following distance if you are behind the impaired driver. Also, reducing your speed will allow you to more safely take other actions, such as changing lanes.
- Continue scanning the driving scene. Don’t get so distracted by the impaired driver that you cause a crash yourself.
- Increase your following distance from other vehicles. If you tailgate the vehicle in front of you, you will be forced to focus on that vehicle to avoid rear-ending it.
- Once you’ve increased your distance from the impaired driver, check the space cushion all around your vehicle – in front, behind, and on both sides. Make sure you haven’t compromised your space cushion in your effort to move away from the impaired driver. Make any necessary corrections carefully. Remember to signal for all lane changes.
- Resume your scan of the driving scene. Impaired drivers are common in popular vacation spots.
If you think an impaired driver is in imminent danger of causing a crash, ask a passenger to note the license plate number, a description of the vehicle, and the vehicle’s location and direction of travel. Have your passenger contact law enforcement, or pull off the road so you can safely make the call yourself.
Make your spring break a safe, healthy, relaxed vacation using defensive driving techniques from the National Safety Commission.
Tips for Teens: Drowsy Driving during Spring Break
March 13, 2009
Many young people spend the time following the end-of-year break from school looking forward to Spring Break, when they will have a great time frolicking with friends in a sunny, sandy locale.
But the long hours of recreation in the hot sun and the excitement of spending the week with friends can cause fatigue on the drive home. Six hours of sleep or less triples your risk of becoming sleepy while driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
Being fatigued while driving can result in a serious crash due to:
- Impaired reaction time, judgment and vision
- Problems with information processing and short-term memory
- Increased moodiness and aggressive behaviors
Some drivers try to avoid these effects by ingesting substances such as NoDoz, Red Bull, or coffee, each of which contains caffeine, a stimulant. But it’s important to realize that the effect of any of these products is, at best, minimal and temporary. The “crash” that follows when the stimulant effect wears off can leave a driver feeling more tired than ever and can increase irritability. Sleep is a neurobiological need that can only be met with sleep, so increased dosages of caffeine will only increase the severity of side effects, not the degree of wakefulness. Too much caffeine can cause restlessness, nervousness, muscle twitching, and an irregular or rapid heartbeat.
To increase your chance of arriving home safely, make plans for your return from Spring Break that allow for a good night’s sleep the night before you leave. Sleep experts recommend at least seven to nine hours. Avoid alcohol and medications (over-the-counter and prescribed) that may impair performance. Plan to leave at a time which will not require you to drive through the night.
Take your driving trip with a companion so you can switch drivers when needed. Passengers can also watch for early signs of driver fatigue. Passengers should stay awake to talk to the driver. Schedule regular stops every 100 miles or two hours. Never try to drive “straight through” – you might never arrive at all. When you stop, spend several minutes stretching and taking a short walk.
Signs that tell you that you must stop immediately for sleep include:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
- Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
- Yawning repeatedly, rubbing your eyes, or trouble keeping your head up
- Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
Remember, the only cure for sleepiness is sleep!
Alcohol Access and Your Teen: Is Your Teen Mature Enough to Drink?
March 12, 2009
So your teen is having some friends over to “hang out.” Your teen wants you to provide a movie, snacks, and a six-pack of beer. Should you do it? Isn’t it safer to have your teen home with you so you can provide supervision? When you were young, the drinking age was 18, and you turned out fine. Isn’t it more important to teach your teen to be a responsible drinker than to abide by a law that features an arbitrary age limit?
Some parents do provide teens with alcohol, or simply look the other way when their teens drink, espousing a “kids will be kids” attitude. They think there is nothing they can do to stop the teen from drinking. They fear their teen’s reaction to a strict prohibition against drinking. They want to be their teen’s friend because they want to keep the lines of communication open.
Some parents think that if the teen only drinks alcohol in their own home, the parents will be in control of the amount consumed. They think they can keep watch over their teen to make sure that nothing bad happens while the teen is intoxicated. They reason that at least this way, their teen isn’t driving drunk or riding with another drunk teen. They rationalize that if they let the teen’s friends sleep over, everyone will be safe.
But these parents aren’t taking many facts into account that refute the notion that parents should allow underage children to drink:
- Teenagers are not physically, mentally or emotionally ready to be under the influence. Even one alcoholic drink is too much for their developing bodies and brains.
- For every year under the age of 21 a teenager begins drinking alcohol, they are five times more likely to battle a lifetime of alcohol abuse and dependence (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2005)
- Adolescent use of alcohol increases the risk of dependence because teens’ brains are not fully developed. The prefrontal cortex, which we use to assess situations, help us use good judgment, and keep our emotions and desires under control, does not develop completely until we are in our early 20s (NIDA, 2007)
- Teenagers may look mature, but their bodies are still developing. They require a lower level of consumption of alcohol to obtain a rapid “high,” which means their judgment is affected almost immediately, but they also have increased levels of alcohol tolerance, making it easy for them to overindulge.
- Teenagers are emotionally immature. They are still learning about themselves, relationships, and what direction they should take in life. Because even a small amount of alcohol reduces inhibitions and impairs judgment, they may react emotionally while under the influence without considering the consequences of their behavior.
- The use of alcohol by teens increases the risk of activities that may result in serious long-term consequences, including:
- Use of other drugs (alcohol is a gateway drug because its use compromises judgment and reduces inhibitions)
- Driving under the influence
- Alcohol poisoning from binge drinking (teens often binge drink to relax and may participate in drinking games that result in ingestion of large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time)
- Increased sexual activity and multiple sexual partners due to lowered inhibitions, which increases the risk of pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases
- Exacerbation of underlying, perhaps undiagnosed, mental illness
- Violence and rape (whether the victim is under the influence or not)
Parental accountability for social hosting is on the rise. Twenty-four states have enacted social hosting laws to hold adults criminally responsible for providing alcohol to minors. No state makes it legal for an adult to provide alcohol to other people’s children. Civil suits can result in the loss of many or all of a person’s assets – whether they knew alcohol was being served in the home or not. Turning a blind eye is not an excuse.
When you host a gathering for your teen, you must tighten your resolve. Avoid being a friend and focus on your role as the parent. The following tips will help you through the process:
- Set expectations with your teen ahead of time. Make sure your teen knows that you will not allow alcohol (or other drugs) at the party and that this is communicated to all guests. Ask your teen to tell you about any concerns she or he has about any of the guests or any situations that could occur. Make your neighbors aware of the party and enlist their help in monitoring the area.
- Make a guest list with your teen. Limit the number of teens so you can be sure of adequate chaperonage. Be sure you have contact information on each teen’s parent. Make sure guests and their parents understand that if a teen leaves the party, she or he won’t be allowed to return and parents will be called. Make sure parents who won’t be chaperoning know the start and end times of the party and will prearrange transportation.
- Limit guest access to certain areas of the house and property. Lock up all valuables, breakables, alcohol and weapons. Plan activities to occupy the guests. Provide plenty of snacks, soda and water. Set an example by not providing alcohol for any adults who are present. Regularly move through the party unannounced and as inconspicuously as possible, checking any off-limit areas. Collect all keys so you can keep track of who is arriving and leaving. Keep coats and purses in an area that can be monitored. Speak to each person before they leave; check for warning signs of impairment.
- If a guest arrives at the party already under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, keep them there while you call a parent to pick them up. If the guest leaves and someone is hurt or injured, you could be held responsible.