Teenagers and Cars


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


As parents we intuitively know that driving a car is a grave responsibility and that a car can be a deadly weapon in the hands of an inexperienced or irresponsible teenager. We also know that a teenager needs experiences so that they will be appropriately prepared for the adult world. Balancing these two realities can be difficult.

The teenager sees many of his/her friends with cars, participates in driver's training in the school, and feels that they are ready for "car driving" experiences. The argument they present to parents can be very convincing. Answers like "You’re not old enough," or "You can get along without one," will not be accepted by the determined teen.

Here are some axioms regarding teenager “car driving.” They may give parents some ideas on how to calmly and logically help the determined teenager who wants to drive and at the same time help the teenager learn to be a "responsible" driver.

·        Parents are not responsible for assuring that the teenager has a car or access to a car. The car is a family resource used for transportation. The parent, not the child, has worked to pay this resource and as a result the parent determines how this resources is used not the teenager.

·        Teenagers who do not have the income needed to purchase and maintain a car are not ready for a car of their own. Teenagers who do not have the income needed to help maintain the family car are not ready to use the family car.

·        Increased costs that the family incurs as a result of a teenage driver are not the family’s obligation; they are the teenager’s responsibility and should be passed on to the teenager. These costs include increased insurance premiums, gasoline, damage to the car not covered by insurance, etc.

·        A teenager who feels they are mature enough to use the family care is mature enough to assess their financial obligations to the family. They are capable of calling your insurance agent to determine the added premium expense that will be their responsibility. The teenager who is mature enough to drive is mature enough to calculate the amount of money needed for gasoline they use and to reimburse the parent for this added expense.

·        A teenager who desires car privileges is old enough and mature enough to keep you informed so that you can determine how best to coordinate all the family transportation needs. If they are unwilling or unable to communicate with you relative to their needs, they are not ready for car resources.

·        Rules/policies relative to driving privileges are essential and must be in place before the teenager is given access to the family car. These rules can include requirements for a cash advance provided by the teenager to set up an insurance deductible deposit that is available if an accident occurs. Another rule can be that the teenager pays all traffic tickets. The rules must be adhered to and no exceptions made. Availability of the family car should be dependent on compliance with these rules.

·        Confusion needs to be minimized by developing agreements with the teenager. An example of such and agreement could be something like this, "Because your sister needs to be picked up every day from school when you have the car, this responsibility will be yours."

·        Irresponsibility and driving do not mix. As a result there should be very firm rules about drugs and alcohol. If a parent has evidence that there is a substance abuse problem, all car privileges are suspended until the parent decides that the problem is under control.

·        If a parent feels that a teenager is not living up agreements that have been made relative to driving privileges, firm action is necessary. "I'm worried about the report I received from the police about your reckless driving - what's your guess about the car?" When your teen asks when he/she can drive again you can say, "I don't know. It's your job to convince me that I no longer need to worry. I'm sure you understand that this is not an overnight decision." If your teenager asks, "Oh great! How am I supposed to get to work?" You could say, "I don't know. I was about to ask you the same question." It is important that we keep clearly in mind who created the problem and who is responsible for solving the problem.

·        Parents loose the campaign to teach responsibility if they solve teenager’s problems. When it comes to automobile driving we are talking about life and death issues. Parents must stand firm.

The preceding axioms have been given as guidelines and to provide parents with an underlying philosophy to use when working with the determined teenager. By keeping these axioms in mind a parent can methodically and lovingly give the teenager access to an expensive and dangerous piece of equipment while at the same time assure that others and the teenager is kept as safe as possible.