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G-R Superintendent News & Views-Teens Behind the Wheel-By David Hill, Gladbrook-Reinbeck Superintendent

April 7, 2017
Northern-Sun Print
Last week, our youngest son turned fourteen. Just like his older brothers, one of the first things that Jacob wanted to do upon reaching this milestone age was to visit the DOT Driver License station and take the written test to receive his permit to drive. He passed his test, and now he’s getting some of his first experiences behind the wheel. Right now, we’re primarily sticking to the rural roads of Tama County, but we’ll eventually venture into some of the small towns in the area. At some point, I’m sure we’ll endeavor to try out the roads in some of the medium-sized towns and larger cities in the area as we seek to help our son develop his skills as a driver. I’ll admit that my wife and I aren’t nearly as nervous this time around. Jacob has had two older brothers to “break us in” on the idea of having our kids behind the wheel. I recall the first few practice driving sessions with our oldest son and how I was overly anxious about his every move. I nearly panicked and grabbed the steering wheel as he took his first left turn. This wasn’t because he was doing anything wrong; in retrospect, he was doing just fine. I just wasn’t mentally prepared for the idea of my child becoming a driver! Our older sons are now both young adults who have gone through the entire process of earning their instruction permits, hours of practice driving with their parents, driver education classes, school permits, and intermediate licenses before finally achieving their full licenses. Both of them are good drivers, and I’m confident that they – as well as the other drivers and pedestrians that they encounter on a daily basis – are just as safe as anyone is on the road. As our youngest son is now just getting out there on the road for some of his first practice driving, I’m reminded that EXPERIENCE is one of the best ways to learn. The guided practice that young drivers receive from their parents as they venture out onto the road as new drivers is critical to their success and to their safety. Roughly 30 Gladbrook-Reinbeck students have reached the age of 14 over the past year, and many more students will reach that milestone in the coming months. Driver Education classes will also be starting in the near future. I’m sure these young people’s parents experienced or will experience similar degrees of anxiousness as their sons and daughters reached various milestones related to driving. Parents, you’ve spent your child’s entire lifetime helping him or her to grow and learn. One of your most important goals during this time has been to keep your child safe. A “rite of passage” as they get older is the freedom and independence of driving. However, with this freedom and independence comes a tremendous amount of risk. Have you prepared your child for this challenging time? Have you done everything you could? Have you sought out sound advice about the dangers of driving as a teen driver before they hit the road alone? Their life could depend upon it. Because young drivers lack experience and have had minimal hands-on supervised practice behind the wheel, they may not perceive risks in the same way that you and I do. Drivers that don’t understand the risks are more likely to be overconfident, leading them to believe that they can handle distractions such as cell phones, multiple passengers, loud music, eating or drinking while driving, emotionally-charged driving, etc. Overconfidence can also lead to a feeling of invincibility, causing drivers to feel that the rules of the road such as speed limits and stop signs don’t apply to them. One of the most important things a parent can do is to set a positive example. Remember, they will be watching YOU when you are behind the wheel, and you provide their greatest model. Your respect (or lack of respect) for the rules of the road and your aggressiveness (or lack of aggressiveness) behind the wheel is likely to be reflected in your child’s behaviors behind the wheel. If you haven’t been setting the best example, there’s no time like right now to get started. Parents shouldn’t take their child’s driving abilities for granted, and it isn’t safe to assume that they will get all of the behind-the-wheel time that they need during Driver Education class. Young drivers need PRACTICE, and while Driver Education does offer the state-required minimum of 6 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction, their greatest opportunity for practice is driving with parents. Parents should ride with their young drivers often, and should be engaged while their child is driving so that appropriate feedback can be given. I encourage your feedback on this column, along with any questions you may have. You are welcome to visit my blog at  where you can read all of my  columns and leave comments if you wish. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter, where my handle is  @DavidRobertHill. 

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