Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Manage the Driving Transition from Supervised Learner to Independent Learner

October 14, 2013

Moderator’s Note: This post was authored by Jessica Mirman, PhD, an Applied Developmental Psychologist and Scientist and former member of the CIRP Teen Driver Safety Research team. While at CIRP, Dr. Mirman studied how interactions with parents and peers affect the development of children's health behaviors in two domains: injury/safety and health management. One area of focus was the development and evaluation of TeenDrivingPlan. As of July 2016, Dr. Mirman has left CIRP@CHOP to continue her career elsewhere. 

To support this year’s theme for National Teen Driver Safety Week (October 20-26) It Takes Two: Shared Expectations for Teens and Parents for Driving, here are some insights and tips to share with parents to help them safely promote their teens’ transition out of the learner’s permit period.

When teens pass the behind-the-wheel driving test some may incorrectly believe they’re equally skilled as other “licensed” drivers. This makes it difficult for teens to understand why certain activities are restricted during the early months of licensure. Consider framing the intermediate period of GDL as a learner permit “plus” not a full license “minus.” By passing the behind-the-wheel test, teens have demonstrated that they’re ready to practice independently. The intermediate period of GDL establishes a supportive framework for them to continue to learn without the additional pressures and dangers associated with full licensure.

Parents can also still ride along as a passenger to support safe driving behaviors and provide guidance in difficult driving situations like in heavy city traffic and in construction zones. They can also provide alternatives, like rides, to avoid unsafe driving situations. Here are some other practical tips for parents to help their teen driver transition from a supervised learner to an independent learner:

Discuss the process. Before the permit phase, talk to your teen about the various stages of licensure and revisit the topic throughout the supervised driving process. Explain that the behind-the-wheel test is not a given and that he or she must demonstrate maturity and skill before permitted to take it. Include your teen in these decisions, and solicit, listen, and acknowledge his or her input. Use these discussions to help develop your teen’s self-evaluation skills.

Co-develop house rules. Work with your teen to establish house rules for driving and consequences for not following them. Many families use GDL as a guide, but family rules can and should be modified to accommodate your teen’s growing maturity and competence. Your teen should know that the rules are about safety, not control.

Limit the keys. According to CIRP@CHOP research, teens with primary access to a vehicle were more than twice as likely to crash in the prior year compared with teens who share a car with family members. Having to ask to use the car also gives your teen the opportunity to share where he’s going and when he will be back.

Encourage two-way communication. To keep your teen safe, setting rules, asking questions and watching closely, sometimes called “monitoring,” is not enough. Research now shows that parents get their knowledge by their teen’s voluntary disclosure. How to get your teen to tell you what you need to know when you need to know it? Start early to establish trust. Watch this video for tips to keep your teen talking.


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