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New Laws for Teen Drivers

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I woke up and realized that the first week of September would bring a lot of changes for teen drivers, at least in Texas and I am sure changes are in the air all around the country. The statistics related to accidents among teen drivers, especially within the first 12 months of driving are alarming.


One of the most proud and yet difficult moments in any parent’s parenting life is the day that their child gets their driver’s license. I can still recall the “gut” feeling as my new driver backed out of the driveway in the family car after getting their driver’s license. I can shut my eyes and feel my dry mouth, churning stomach and rapid heartbeat as if it was yesterday. I can also recall pacing on the porch for 10 minutes prior to their curfew as I heard sirens from who knows where as I was sure they had been in an accident. I will admit that even after getting through one new driver, I made my husband drive around during a thunderstorm, in the middle of the day, and follow fire engines and an ambulance as I just had this “mother feeling” that somehow these emergency vehicles may have been headed to an accident involving our second newly licensed driver. Thankfully, I was totally wrong, and of course my children thought I was crazy.


But, as a pediatrician, I know that the leading cause of death for 15 – 20 year olds is a motor vehicle accident. Driving is a privilege, teens often need to be reminded of that, and with that privilege comes a huge amount of responsibility, not only for themselves but eventually the passengers they are allowed to have in the car.


Beginning September 1, Texas now requires that teens must continue to receive classroom driver’s education while increasing behind the wheel driving instruction from 14 to 34 hours. I say the more practice the better! And that practice goes for parents who must commit to mentoring their child’s behind the wheel driving while they have their learner’s permit. Have your teen drive EVERYWHERE with you. The grocery store, school, doctor’s appointments, and after school events. They may not want to go those “boring” places with you, but they will be going there on their own one day and repetition is good. Remind them that teen drivers under 18 are banned from using cell phones while driving, so that includes dialing, talking and TEXTING. Lead by example.


Secondly, there is now a behind the wheel driving skills exams, just like the “old days” for drivers under 18 years of age. I am already hearing that the lines for this are horrible, but these lines may indeed save lives. Some kids may not be ready to drive alone despite the fact they finished driver’s ed, and this will help to keep them from “automatically” getting a license. I was just amazed that you could actually take these pieces of paper that said you had taken driver’s ed, completed your hours behind the wheel, show a document that you were enrolled in high school and walk away with a license No more….


Lastly, they have extended the graduated driver’s license restrictions from six months to one year. This means that your new driver has limited night driving privileges, and a limited number of passengers (specifically one non family passenger). But parents must enforce these rules.


Despite the fact that these laws vary from state to state, the restrictions surrounding new drivers are becoming greater. If your child is in this age range, review your state laws and have a dialogue with your child. With new laws for newly licensed drivers we can hopefully save lives.


That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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