The road ahead is risky for teen drivers. Here’s how to help them navigate it

This story is part of Amy Bells parental guidance Column broadcast on CBC Radio One The early edition.

When I turned 16, I applied for my driver’s license as soon as possible.

Growing up, there wasn’t much within walking distance of my home and the nearest bus stop was a hike away. Being able to get behind the wheel meant freedom. It also meant the mom and dad taxi service could finally retire.

But like many teenagers, it also meant I had my first speeding ticket and car accident within a year.

With the tiered licensing program in most provinces, it now takes much longer and much more practice for someone to go it alone. But we still put young people behind the wheel of heavy machinery and just pray for the best.

Sometimes the result is the worst. According to recent statistics from ICBC, an average of 28 people aged 16-21 are killed in accidents in BC each year, with young male drivers being involved three times more often than female drivers, particularly where speed or disability is a factor.

So yes, it can be terrifying to see our kids getting behind the wheel. Alleviating this terror starts with proper and comprehensive driving education.

severity of the decision

Maria Bagdonas, Education Manager for Young Drivers of Canada, emphasizes that we teenagers need to be fully educated about the seriousness of the decision to drive, as well as all traffic rules.

“Driving a car is one of the most dangerous things you will do on a daily basis, barring certain career choices,” Bagdonas said. “And the risk doesn’t change from the first day you get your driver’s license to the last.”

Bagdonas says leading by example is always the best lesson. So, mute that road rage and please cut out those rolling stops.

At the same time, some new drivers today seem to be aware of the dangers and the importance of doing things right.

Emma Reid, who just turned 18, says she was very concerned about getting in the driver’s seat.

But she was determined to overcome her fear to take some of the burden off her parents, who used to keep her and her younger siblings around. She says she took lots of classes and practiced in quiet areas so she could get comfortable.

After all, driving has given her a boost in many ways.

“I feel like I can drive, it just feels different,” says Reid, who lives in North Vancouver. “It gives you an independence that doesn’t exist when you take public transport or ride a bike. And it makes you feel more grown up.

Do teenagers really have to drive?

Despite all the possibilities and arguments against driving a car, freedom from a car is a privilege that many people cannot afford. In many areas, particularly in rural areas, other transportation options are few and a driver’s license can offer teenagers better educational and employment opportunities.

But for families growing up in areas with easily accessible transit and bike routes, should we actively discourage teenagers from getting their driver’s license?

That’s tempting, especially when you factor in the rising cost of fuel and the environmental impact of driving.

Cycling enthusiast and advocate Lucy Maloney says she doesn’t want to ban her kids from driving – she just wants them to be able to choose other options.

“In a culture where we might not have very good alternatives for people who can’t sit in a car, getting a driver’s license was seen as a ticket to freedom and independence, and that’s pretty sad,” says Maloney, who is in Vancouver lives.

“It just means that until they have a car, it keeps our kids from actually being independent and exploring their neighborhood and their city, which entails all sorts of costs and risks. I really hope my kids have a choice about what they want to do.”

In order to have these choices, alternative modes of transport must be accessible, safe and affordable for all. Lucy says we need to hold governments accountable for improving all forms of travel.

Regardless of where they live and their access to transport, young people interested in driving should be educated on all traffic rules from an early age, and we should ensure that they can safely navigate and share these roads – whatever they choose to drive in the future. Hopefully there is a very graduated license to drive a flying car.

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