Parent involvement in teen driver safety

Parents play a central role in the licensing process in North Carolina. They help determine when teens enter – and how quickly they progress – through the licensing system (parent approval is required at each licensing stage). They supervise their teen for 12 months during the learner period. Once the teen begins driving unsupervised, they are the primary enforcers of the nighttime, passenger and cell phone restrictions. And throughout the process, they help select the vehicle their teen will be driving.

Until recently, virtually nothing was known about the nature and quality of parental supervision during the learner stage of GDL. We conducted a cutting-edge study using in-vehicle cameras and parent interviews to examine how parents supervise and coach teen drivers. We learned that many teens simply don’t get enough practice during the relatively safe learner period, and that parents tend to focus on vehicle handling skills rather than the important cognitive skills that are required in safe driving.

Based on this fundamental research, we developed a parent coaching session called Time to Drive that emphasizes what parents can do to help their teen develop more quickly into an experienced, safe driver. The session – which is grounded in principles of adult learning – emphasizes the importance of teens obtaining substantial driving experience in wide variety of settings during the supervised learner period. It also helps parents realize the benefits of sharing their deep understanding of driving with their teen, and how they can help their teen learn to view the driving environment more like as an experienced driver. In addition to the parent session, we have developed a smartphone app for the supervised driving period that automatically records how much and where a teen drives, and encourages parents and teens to meet driving goals.

Selected Bibliography

Goodwin, AH, Foss, RD, Margolis, LH, & Harrell, S. (2014). Parent comments and instruction during the first four months of supervised driving: An opportunity missed? Accident Analysis & Prevention, 69:15-22.

Goodwin, AH, Margolis, LH, Foss, RD, Harrell, S, O’Brien, NP, & Kirley, BB. (2013). Improving Parental Supervision of Novice Drivers Using an Evidence-Based Approach. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

O’Brien, NP, Foss, RD, Goodwin, AH, & Masten, SV. (2013). Supervised hours requirements in graduated driver licensing: Effectiveness and parental awareness. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 50:330-335.

Goodwin, A, Foss, R, Margolis, L, & Waller, M. (2010). Parents, Teens and the Learner Stage of Graduated Driving Licensing. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Goodwin AH, Waller MW, Foss RD, & Margolis LH. (2006). Parental supervision of teenage drivers in a graduated licensing system. Traffic Injury Prevention, 7(3):224-231.

Goodwin, AH & Foss, RD. (2004). Graduated driver licensing restrictions: Awareness, compliance, and enforcement in North Carolina. Journal of Safety Research, 35(4):367-374.