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Start Early on Driver's Ed

Best Time To Teach Your Child About Safe Driving Is Before They Get Behind The Wheel

Ever thought about letting your preteen drive your car? We seriously doubt it. Are you talking to your child about driving? Probably not. You think you should wait a few more years, since your kid's a long way off from driver's ed, right? Wrong! Here are some tips to get your kids on the right driving track – long before they turn 16.

Why Start Now?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, car accidents are the leading cause of death for teens between the ages of 15 and 19. Clearly, driver's education classes alone are not enough.

"Don't leave learning to drive to driver's ed or other places," says Allen S. Hardin, author of Drive Like a Champ: A Safe Start to Driving Smart, a kid-friendly guide to driving safely. He believes parental involvement is a key point in teaching kids safe driving habits.

Another must is starting early. "Think about it," Hardin says. "Even when they're barely able to walk, [kids] like something that moves – a push cart, tricycle or bicycle." You should use this fascination as a step toward your teen becoming a safe driver.

Since your child won't be behind the wheel practicing anytime soon, you probably think it's OK – and maybe even safer – to put off teaching him until he's closer to driving age. "Don't," Hardin says. "Once you're 16 or 17, nobody can tell you anything, [because] you know everything." That's why the best time to teach them is before they get behind the wheel and before they think they know more than you do.

Teach by Your Example

One of the best ways for your preteen to learn to practice safe driving habits is by watching you. If you're weaving in and out of traffic or yakking on your cell phone while trying to balance a cup of coffee on your knee, your preteen is bound to be watching your every move. Since it's only reasonable to think that teen drivers may mimic the driving habits of their parents, make sure the example you're setting is a good one.

If you need a little brush-up on safe driving techniques, Hardin's book can help. Though it's designed for kids ages 7 to 14, the tips can also help you remember things you may have forgotten or chose to ignore. Another option is to take a driver refresher or defensive driving course. Do whatever you have to do in order to better your driving. That way, when your child approaches you with a question, you'll have the right answer.

Once your driving skills are straight, talk with your preteen about driving anytime the two of you hit the road. Point out specific things you do, like checking your blind spot – explain why you do it and what could happen if you don't.

Hardin says one thing you should be aware of is that once someone begins to learn the rules of the road, they tend to critique others. The next time you're in the car contemplating running a red light, remember, your child is watching and might say something about it. Even worse, she may be learning. By copying Mom's or Dad's erratic behavior and running red lights when she begins to drive, your teen just may change your lives forever.

Teach by Others' Examples

Don't think that your driving skills will be the only ones under scrutiny. Hardin says while you're in the car, have your child check out other drivers, too. "You need to talk to them about what other people are doing and not doing right," he says. This could include illegal things like speeding and passing without signaling or safety hazards like driving with an obstructed view or rowdy passengers.

Other instances you should make your child aware of are when someone's vehicle makes for unsafe driving. Though Hardin suggests kids be a little older before being taught about car repair and maintenance, he says "the closer they get to a driving age, the more they need to understand how a car works and how to fix it." If you identify conditions that make someone's driving hazardous and help your child understand the possible consequences of it, you'll be teaching him how important car maintenance is, without getting too technical.

While you're helping your preteen grade other drivers, don't forget pedestrians. Point out some of the different things they may or may not do, like stepping into the road without warning. By helping your preteen realize that sharing the road isn't just about him and other drivers, he'll be aware and cautious of not only the mistakes he may make, but others' mistakes as well.

It's a Privilege

Contrary to what many 16-year-olds think, driving is not a right, it's a privilege. If you don't feel your teen is mature enough to drive when her 16th birthday rolls around, don't allow her to. If you're not sure of a good age for your teen to get behind the wheel, heed this advice: There is no exact age, but "when [teens] are responsible in everything else they do, then they're likely to be more responsible in driving also," Hardin says. "If you're having trouble with your child in school, with disobedience or other things, odds are he will not be a good driver." If you feel your child isn't ready to handle a 3,000-pound vehicle safely and maturely, it's your responsibility to make sure he doesn't.

Even after your child gets a permit or driver's license, you should let it be known that driving privileges can be revoked by you or law officials if they fail to act in a responsible manner while on the road. Sure your teen may not like it, but being cautious is more important than his dislikes. If you have to take his keys away, do it. His life and others' may very well depend on it.

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