How parents can help young drivers

Too many young New Zealanders are killed and injured on our roads.

Our road fatality rate for young drivers is about 60 per cent worse than Australia and our 15-17 year olds have the highest road death rate in the OECD.

Those are frightening figures for parents watching their children take to the road but there are ways you can help your kids be safer.

The learner stage

It might not be what the young driver wants to hear, but the AA encourages parents to get their children to stay on their learner licence until they have completed the recommended 120 hours of supervised driving.

Drivers who have completed 120 hours before driving solo are 40 per cent less likely to be involved in crashes.

While the law only requires learner drivers to wait six months before they can go for their restricted licence, they would need to have been doing an unlikely 45 minutes of supervised practice each day in that period to reach the 120 hour mark. By spending longer on their learners licence and clocking up the recommended amount of training, young drivers will be much safer.

If that's not enough motivation, there is also the fact that the more difficult restricted test that came into force from February 2012 has been designed so applicants will need to have done 120 hours training to develop the necessary skills and experience to pass it. If a driver takes the test before they are ready and fails they will have to pay again to re-sit, so it makes financial sense to not sit it until the driver is fully prepared.

If you are able to afford professional driving lessons for your child, it is a great option but inevitably mum and dad will oversee most of the supervised hours themselves. To make sure you are passing on the right skills and habits, consider booking your own refresher session with an instructor before you start.

The restricted stage

The first six months on their restricted licence are statistically the most dangerous period of a driver's life.

Young drivers on a restricted licence are seven times more likely to have a crash than drivers aged 45-49.

This is part of the reason for the restrictions forbidding them carrying passengers or driving without supervision at night. Too often these restrictions are flouted and parents have a key role to play in ensuring young drivers obey them.

While it may not seem like a big deal to allow your child to give their friends a lift, it makes them all more at risk of being involved in a crash.

Research has proven that young people drive in a riskier fashion with non-adult passengers in the car and they are much more likely to be distracted. A restricted driver with a car full of young passengers is four times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than if they were driving on their own.

The first car 

Who is more likely to be involved in a crash, an experienced adult driver or an inexperienced teenager? Yet who is more likely to be driving the safest vehicle for surviving a crash?

Look for cars with higher safety rating and that have air bags, ABS brakes and electronic stability control.

We tend to have our safest drivers (mum and dad) in the newer, safer cars while their children often drive older, less safe vehicles that have been bought because they are cheap.

If it all goes wrong, you want your child to be in a vehicle that is going to protect them as much as possible in a crash and no matter what your budget, there will be safer vehicles available. Choosing a car with a 3-star safety rating instead of a 1-star could make the difference between whether they walk away from a crash unhurt or not.

The AA website has safety ratings for used and new cars while the Victorian state government in Australia has produced a helpful list of good first cars.

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