It’s back-to-school season in the Midwest, which means millions of students are back on the road and the dangerous driving weather of winter is around the corner. Ensuring you or your teenager is aware of how to be a safe driver will help keep this school year stress-free and accident-free.
Steve Scott serves as Treasurer of the Illinois High School and College Drivers Education Association (IHSCDEA). He shared with I Drive Safely his teen driver safety tips that he developed as a drivers ed teacher for 34 years in Illinois District 117. He also opened the Lakes Community High School drivers education program in Lake Villa, IL, before working with the IHSCDEA for the past 11 years.
Teen Driver Safety on Today’s Roadways
Everyone needs to drive cautiously, Scott said. However, teenagers today face learning-to-drive challenges that those of the past didn’t, through:
- Technology addiction: According to the New York Times, 46% of smartphone users say they could not live without their phones. This level of addiction to these small devices makes it difficult for teens (and adults) to turn their attention away from the phone.
- Distracted driving: Shortened attention spans and a lessening capability of handling “boredom” behind the wheel can put teens at a higher risk of distracted driving. Mobile devices should always remain off, and stowed, while stopped at a right light, stuck in traffic, etc.
"New technologies in the car and drivers education help with this process,” Scott said, adding that in-class driving simulators can prepare students for the busyness of driving, as well as the danger of distracted driving. Some Midwest states offer credit for in-class simulators, such as Minnesota, which offers teens 1 behind-the-wheel credit for every 4 simulated hours.
Comparatively, smartphones can serve a useful purpose during simulations—while properly stowed and used for that specific purpose—Scott said. “You see what their scores are when they have their phones out driving in the simulator.”
3 Items to Keep in Mind
1. Follow Graduated Driver’s License Laws
“Most states in the Midwest have some form of Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) law that restricts driving abilities before you turn 18,” Scott said. For instance, most states with GDL programs restrict nighttime driving and passengers in the car. Wisconsin and Indiana do not permit passengers in your car for the first 9 months or until teens turn 18. Illinois limits teens to 1 passenger for the first 12 months.
2. Decide: Should a Teenager Drive to School?
High schools may have different qualifications and requirements for students driving to school, as well as parking. Check your school’s website or social media pages to see what applies to you.
Remember that driving to school is a privilege—not a right, Scott added. Having the ability to drive school is a freedom that shouldn’t be taken advantage of. In 2013 the Nevada Senate Education Committee found that nearly 20 states link student drivers to habitual school absences.
3. Be Aware of Others
More than 50 million students in the U.S. are returning to school this fall, and most are walking, busing, or driving to school. A back-to-school safety checklist can help identify the pain points of commuting to school as what dangers to look out for. “You need to be aware of school buses and kids at the corner when driving to school,” Scott noted.