Adventures in Parenting: We Have a Teen Driver

Once again I have allowed a major parenting event to sneak up on me. Teen has had his driver’s permit for the requisite six months and actively practiced driving for the last four months. The license exam was scheduled about two months in advance, and we anticipated that he would pass. So why did it not occur to me until Friday, the day he took and passed the test, that we would soon enter new parenting territory?

I sure talked about it enough. One parent would tell me one thing (“Sure, he can drive his brother, just call the police station first”), and another would contradict that with something else (“I don’t know, my friend called the police station and her son still got a ticket for driving his sibling”). By Friday I knew I had to do my own research.

driving safe

By the way, I live in California so the information that follows applies here. If you live in another state, you’ll need to review the information for your state. A website all parents of teen drivers should visit: the Center for Disease Control’s page on teen driving. They include graduated driver’s license information by state, “danger zones” for teen driving, and a parent-teen driving contract.

During the first twelve months after receiving their license, a teen driver may not:
*Drive between 11pm and 5am (after 12 months, they cannot drive between 12-5am)
*Drive a passenger under the age of 20 without an accompanying adult age 25+

The exceptions as listed on the DMV website include:
*A medical emergency or the immediate need of a member of your family
*School or work-related necessities
*Employment purposes

The exceptions seem vague, and perhaps intentionally so. However, as I would rather not have to appear in court with Teen to defend an exception, I think we will do our best to avoid exceptions in the first place. He doesn’t have a job, school shouldn’t have him out in the middle of the night, and God keep us from medical emergencies in which he is the most able driver.

Another interesting prohibition: under the age of 18, teen drivers cannot use a cell phone in a moving vehicle for any purpose, even with hands-free/bluetooth. Teen plugs his phone into the stereo to listen to music, but changing the song could be cause for a ticket.

Penalties include:
A court appearance and 8 to 16 hours of community service for the first offense, and 16 to 24 hours for any subsequent offense;
And a minimum fine of $35 for a first offense, and $50+ for any subsequent offense.

Penalties for moving violations (one point each):
30-day period during which the driver must be accompanied by a licensed driver age 25+
If the driver receives three or more points in a 12-month period, a driving suspension for 6 months and probation for one year (although it doesn’t specify what that probation entails…?).


On to the contract! When we gave Teen his cell phone we also gave him a cell phone contract that proved more useful than we could have predicted; in fact, after one stressful event he said, “I didn’t know how much I would need these rules!” The rules set the expectations, lay out consequences, and establish an authority we can compassionately refer to when conflict arises. So, even though Guy and I tend to be of the more spontaneous, decide-in-the-moment type, we understand as a family the value of clearly established boundaries, and how much more do we need boundaries on driving than on, say, texting?

I urge you to download and discuss this form with your spouse and subsequently with your child (another version here). The CDC has done the hard work; they have thought through all the potential situations for you. As from birth Teen has been riding in car seats, then booster seats, and finally seat belts, I’m not sure he would ever get in a car without buckling up, but he’ll agree to always do so before he gets the keys. Likewise, I can’t imagine he’d ever pick up a hitchhiker, but he’ll agree not to do so before he gets the keys. And while we plan to pay for gas, maintenance, and insurance on our cars (he doesn’t have a car), we will expect that he won’t let the car run out of gas.

The form includes a section on restrictions with fill-in-the-blanks so parents can customize for their kids. For example we will expect that, for the next three months, Teen will not drive after 10:30pm (we may make exceptions, but this will be the rule). We will cross off the restrictions on transporting passengers (inapplicable in CA), adjusting stereo/air (too rigid), and bad-weather driving (CA in spring/summer? Come on!). Instead of off-limit locations, Teen will have to get destination approval and let us know if he intends to drive somewhere other than originally discussed. And we’ll expect that he not adjust music on his cell phone while the vehicle is in motion; honestly, he can deal with a song he doesn’t like for a few minutes, or else he can use the car stereo.

The final section of the form includes penalties. If Teen drives without a seat belt, drives to a not-previously-approved destination, or drives after curfew (aka, arrives home late), he won’t drive for one week. If Teen drives a passenger under age 20, he won’t drive for two weeks. If Teen uses his cell phone in the car or gets a moving violation ticket, he won’t drive for a month. And if he ever drives impaired (God forbid), he won’t drive for six months – a harsh consequence because of the life-threatening possibility of impaired driving.

Teen overheard Guy and I discussing driving rules and knows that the discussion with him, and the signing of the contract, will be forthcoming. I’m glad, as he knows that we’re taking this seriously. We’re on the same page – literally, as we have a page that we will all sign together and then post in his room.

The sad reality is that parents will need to stand together to expect that their kids will obey the law, because too many parents allow their kids to disregard the law. We live in a safe, small town and very likely our kids could drive their siblings and/or friends here to there and never get caught. I understand some parents have busier schedules and fuller lives and see the law as an imposition. But is that what we want to teach our kids: obey the law when convenient? At 16 years old, do we really expect them to discern when the law applies and when it might not?

We plan to review the contract in three months, and three months after that, and again six months after that, which will take us to one year of teen driving. Meanwhile he’ll have to maintain good grades (insurance discount) and keep up his chores and generally be the nice kid he’s becoming in order to maintain driver’s privileges. And as with our cell phone rules, we expect that he will mess up. We will take away his keys. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. We will always be learning. We are on his team. We are in this together.

driving rules

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