Should you lend your child the car?

March 13, 1997

Parents should expand privileges over time


Staff Writer

Getting a driver's license is a rite of passage for America's youth. It represents crossing the line from adolescence to adulthood. What could be more liberating for teenagers than being able to drive themselves - and perhaps their friends - to a movie or a fast-food restaurant rather than having mom or dad drop them off and pick them up?

But with that freedom comes responsibility. How do parents know if their teenage son or daughter - whom they may very likely still see as a child - is ready to drive?

"Unfortunately, there is no test for maturity," says Joe Widmyer, owner of Widmyer Driving School in Hagerstown.

State laws and driver education programs set some limits that help with the decision. In Maryland the law requires that all beginning drivers younger than 18 years old complete an approved driver education course.


The Maryland-approved driver education course consists of 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours on the road.

"Personally, I feel that the six hours the state requires is not enough for these kids," says Widmyer Driving School instructor John M. Shriver.

Shriver, who has taught driving for 12 years, says more road time is needed. He compares driving to playing football: The more you practice, the better you're going to be.

Shriver has a checklist and makes a point of talking to parents of student drivers and telling them which skillls need improvement. He believes that parents should provide additional guidance for the new drivers.

When Shriver or other driving school instructors take students on the road, they have a "guardian angel" in a passenger seat brake pedal. How can parents cope in cars with just one set of brakes?

Careful planning and communication can help parents and teen drivers avoid conflicts and problems, according to Roger W. McIntire, author of "Teenagers and Parents - Ten Steps for a Better Relationship."

McIntire, who taught child psychology, family counseling and therapy at University of Maryland for 32 years, has three children.

He taught his now-grown daughters to drive.

McIntire recommends talking through every driver action on the route before the key is turned.

Lending your kids the car and letting them drive it is not an all-at-once proposition, McIntire says.

"I think the key is gradualness," he says.

Just because kids have licenses doesn't mean they can use the car anytime they want to drive anywhere they please. Territory and driving privileges - including passengers - can expand with time and experience.

McIntire says young drivers must have some sense of responsibility for the vehicle. Expectingteens to be responsible - about the car and driving, as well as other areas of daily life - helps them to know they are valuable, he says.

He advises requiring your child to pay something - even a nominal amount of money - toward insuring the car. And, he believes teenagers will be less inclined to waste gas if they have to pay for some of it instead of reaching into Mom's pocketbook.

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