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Q: My child just turned 15 and wants to start learning how to drive. I’m debating whether to let him learn yet because I’m not sure if he is ready for the responsibility. How can I tell?
A: Mark Larson is a driving instructor and owner of Deschutes Driver Education Inc. Larson has taught driver’s education with Bend-La Pine Schools and High Desert Educational Service District since 2007.
Larson said that while many of his students learn to drive at the age of 15, more are learning to drive later in their teens. He attributes this change to social media.
“When I was that age, people talked on the phone or drove when they wanted to see each other,” Larson said. “Now with social media, teens have all these things to help them keep in contact with their friends. They don’t necessarily need to drive as much.”
He said many students wait until they’re 16, 17 or 18 to learn how to drive. In his experience, about 75 percent of students who get behind the wheel later in their teens do so because they didn’t feel ready at 15. This, Larson said, isn’t always a bad thing.
“The brain doesn’t fully develop until around the age of 25,” Larson said. “Yet we’re putting kids behind the wheel at the age of 15.”
Larson said the best thing to do to determine whether your teen is ready for driving is to sit down and have a conversation. Talk about how he or she is feeling about driving, and also express concerns you might have. Ask what the true motivation to drive is, which will give some insight into whether or not he or she is ready for the responsibility.
“A lot of times, parents want their teens to drive so they can act as family chauffeurs,” he said. “But if they’re arguing and fighting with younger siblings, that can be a huge distraction.”
Larson said the leading cause of accidents with teen drivers is caused by distractions, which include cellphone usage and talking to passengers in the car.
Larson recommends watching the way your teen interacts with siblings at home. If they argue a lot, letting your teen cart around siblings is probably a bad idea. Even if they do get along, Larson said, it’s important to set some serious ground rules as to behavior in the car.
Larson recommends sending your teen to any driver’s education school rather than teaching them yourself.
“Parents aren’t always the best instructors,” Larson said. “If the mom or dad says something about their driving, teens can get defensive and think that they’re being yelled at.”
An instructor comes in as a neutral third-party, and teens are generally more willing to listen and learn from them as opposed to their parents.
Making your child wait a few years past the legal age of driving before they get behind the wheel doesn’t hinder their abilities, Larson said.
“It actually sets them ahead,” Larson said. “A student that waits until they’re 17 to drive, rather than 15, is usually much better in class. Their brain is more developed and they’re more emotionally stable.”
When your child does obtain his or her license, Larson said, it’s important to clearly set limits and ground rules to encourage safe driving.
“Driver’s education doesn’t stop the day they get their license,” Larson said. “The license is so that they can begin to become a good, safe driver.”