The data is clear: new teen drivers are at risk as soon as they get behind the wheel, and the less experience they receive, the more that risk increases. Parental engagement in teen driver education is a key solution to this societal problem.
Most states have instituted Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws, but many parents only use their own personal experience to help with the supervised driving phase. And while the laws may mandate the amount of time that teens drive with their parents, they do not require that experience be gained over a variety of road and environmental conditions, which help shape better, safer and smarter teen drivers.
The Parent’s Supervised Driving Program, developed and published by the nonprofit Safe Roads Alliance, is a resource kit for parents and guardians who are helping their teens learn how to drive.
While national in scope, the Program is building its reach state by state. Beginning in 2012 with Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, the program expanded to nine additional states in 2013: Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, and North Dakota. As a result of these partnerships, in 2013 alone, it was actively distributed to more than 160,000 families with permitted teen drivers. In 2014, the Program’s reach will increase to nearly 1,000,000 families.
The Program is distributed to all parents through DMVs in participating states at the time of teen permitting. This makes parents immediately aware that there is a need for guidance during this phase of the teen driver learning process. Corporate underwriting by funders such as Ford and State Farm allows the Program to reach 100 percent of parents of teen learner’s permit recipients in participating states, at no cost to families or DMVs.
In September 2013, the Program launched RoadReady®, a free mobile app for parents and teens to automatically track and log their supervised driving. The app accurately records driving times to assure reliable logs and also tracks night driving, the type of roads traveled and weather conditions. Nearly 10,000 users have downloaded the app since its launch, recording more than 125,000 drives and 180,660,418 minutes of driving time.
Data from the app show there is a tendency for parents to overestimate time spent practice driving with their teen when logging the time manually. When entering a drive manually, app users record an average drive time of 32.2 minutes. When using the automated tracking tool and location services through GPS, however, the actual average tracked drive drops to 18.8 minutes. Based on this average, teens need to drive significantly more than the 3.1 times per week that preliminary results show them actually driving.
Safe Roads Alliance has worked with DMV staff from around the country; highway safety researchers, including NHTSA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators; academics; behavioral scientists; educators; and, of course, parents and teens, to develop a “best-practices” curriculum, which is presented in modules that can be used together or separately. The Program is available in hard copy, in PDF and eReader formats and through the app, ensuring widespread use and ease of access.
In addition, Safe Roads Alliance has undertaken a rigorous marketing effort that generated 80.9 million media impressions in 2013 and maintains an active social media presence, as well as ongoing communication with its state and sponsor partners through quarterly conference calls and email newsletters and communications to driver education schools in states where the printed curriculum is actively being distributed. The objective of this ongoing communication is to ensure that the Program remains relevant, effective and utilized by all parties.
Safe Roads Alliance is in the process of assessing The Parent’s Supervised Driving Program reach and effectiveness through focus groups, surveys and research tools. The feedback received will be used to identify improvements for future iterations of the Program.
Although it may be too soon to determine the Program’s direct impact on teen driver crash rates, there is no doubt that the Program’s preliminary data demonstrates an increase in parental awareness surrounding the supervised driving GDL requirement and a positive change in parents’ approach to teen driver education.