On February 26, 2015, Theresa and I heard Dr. Dale Wisely at Homewood Library speak about teaching teenagers to drive and keeping them safe on the road. He began his career as a clinical psychologist in an office near the emergency room of UAB Medical Center. He saw many parents endure the tragedy of a teen car accident and decided to do something about it through a now widely used contract between parent and teen driver. The contract sets forth the terms under which the teen learns to drive and the consequences of irresponsibility.

Judging from his hate mail (and his response), he is doing a great job:

“Obviously, you hate teenagers.” — Anonymous teenager

Ah, well. I’ve met a few who get on my nerves, but for the most part, I really enjoy teenagers. Enough to try to help them stay alive.

Here are a few principles of the contract, which should be tailored by each particular family:

Driving privileges are only permitted if the teen agrees in writing to follow all the rules of the road, the household, and whatever else you believe is essential for safety.
The contract at a minimum should cover: use of cell phones, car stereos, MP3 players, and other electronics; use of safety belts; law-enforcement issues; alcohol and other drugs; and the number of passengers permitted under particular circumstances.
Operating the vehicle requires all of a teenager’s attentive capacity; distractions (such as passengers) should be minimized, if not avoided.
Teens do not learn to drive in a year, but over several years as they master a complex machine in a dangerous world, e.g., changing lanes at high speed in heavy traffic during a thunderstorm. Driving safely requires superior coordination combined with discipline and judgment.
Practice driving with your teen in different types of conditions, not just sunny days.
Parents who do not enforce consequences for irresponsible behavior are flirting with disaster.
Dr. Wisely notes that if your licensed teen violates one of the rules of the contract, the punishment should not be total loss of the driving privileges (because practice is essential to learning) but the temporary loss of unsupervised driving privileges. A month of driving with Mom “riding shotgun” will cure many bad habits!

The contract can be downloaded at: https://sites.google.com/site/parentingteendriverd2/Home/our-contract ; for more about Dr. Wisely, go to: https://sites.google.com/site/dalewisely/Home