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Safe Young Drivers

Blog entry by Hope Katz Gibbs
The Parent Diaries
September 29, 2008

Driving on highways and winding back roads is scary enough when an experienced driver is behind the wheel — but when teens start driving, there’s an increased cause for concern. Reports of teens dying behind the wheel seem to dominate the news. That’s why Phil Berardelli’s book, “Safe Young Drivers: A Guide for Parents and Teens,” is an essential read for every parent.

The Fairfax County, VA dad, former teacher and journalist originally penned the 176-page paperback in 1996. In its fourth edition, it has sold thousands of copies — and still, he says, each year far too many teens die or are harmed due to unsafe driving. In fact, he was inspired to write the book 10 years ago after an area crash killed three teens and disabled another.

“Those kids reminded me of my own two girls, who I had taught how to drive a few years before. The tragedy launched me on this course of urging parents to protect their teen drivers,” says the journalist, who immediately crafted an article on the topic for The Washington Post. The piece generated so much fan mail that an editor at the Post encouraged Berardelli to turn it into a guidebook. He did, making sure his message was effective.

He designed the book with a spiral binding to sit in the lap of a parent sitting in the passenger seat. Half of the text is directed at parents; the other half talks to student drivers. Teens, however, may have a little trouble with his basic premise.

“I insist parents keep their kids from driving alone until they are 17,” he says.

Why? Statistics. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 16-year-olds are up to 12 times more likely to die in a fatal crash than any other age group. They also are less likely to wear seat belts and more likely to speed and take unnecessary risks.

“Sixteen is by far the most dangerous age on the road,” he says. “In fact, a 16-year-old is 12 times more likely than older drivers to die in a crash as a single occupant. Put two young teens in a vehicle, and the odds of death and injury nearly double. Three or four unsupervised teens riding together constitute a recipe for disaster.”
Despite these sobering facts, he insists that the procedure for obtaining a drivers license in most states remains minimal.
“Some states don’t even require a learner’s permit,” he shares. “Some allow the permit to be obtained before age 16. Although some states have installed graduated licensing, with sensible restrictions for the youngest drivers, many still impose only the most minimal requirements.”

Plus, Berardelli notes that only a small number of high schools operate relatively comprehensive programs that require parental involvement.

“Most have cut back driver ed. classes to the point where they can accommodate only a small portion of students,” he says. “Even the lucky ones receive only a few hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. Commercial driving schools, even the most competent and conscientious among them, cannot possibly provide complete instruction.”

Safe Young Drivers is intended for parents and teens to use together. Each new lesson addresses parental issues such as “How do I choose a car for my teen?” and provides teens with simple instruction and important tips to remember.

Berardelli admits that parents who keep their teens from venturing out on the road alone may not be the most popular person that kid’s life: “But that’s not what’s most important. You’ve spent years raising your kid, driving to countless sports practices and music lessons. Why suddenly grow impatient at the most important and potentially dangerous time of their young lives?”

The book is available at safeyoungdrivers.com.


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.