Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving

Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving

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by Tim Hollister

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Most driving literature for parents focuses on how to teach a teen to drive, without explaining why teen driving is so dangerous in the first place or giving parents a plan to preempt the hazards teens face. By contrast, Not So Fast empowers and guides parents to understand the causes and situations that most often lead to teen crashes and to take

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Most driving literature for parents focuses on how to teach a teen to drive, without explaining why teen driving is so dangerous in the first place or giving parents a plan to preempt the hazards teens face. By contrast, Not So Fast empowers and guides parents to understand the causes and situations that most often lead to teen crashes and to take specific, proactive steps—before and each time a teen driver gets behind the wheel—to counteract them. This authoritative guide tackles hot button issues such as texting and distracted driving, parenting attitudes (conscious and unconscious), and teen impairment and fatigue—and includes a combination of topics not found in other teen driving guides, such as:

  • How brain development affects driving
  • Why driver’s ed does not produce safe drivers
  • How and why to prepare a “flight plan” for each drive before handing over the keys
  • How and when to say no

Proceeds from the sale of this book support the Reid Samuel Hollister Memorial Fund, which subsidizes infant and toddler education in greater Hartford, Connecticut, and worthy traffic safety causes.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hollister, whose son, Reid, was killed in a 2006 car crash at age 17, subsequently served on a Connecticut task force on teen driving laws, and has become a national spokesperson and blogger on the subject of safer teen driving. This book, he notes, is “unique and somewhat odd,” as it doesn’t address how to teach a teen to drive. Nevertheless, it’s an invaluable resource for parents, with a focus on ample supervision and risk control. Hollister explains why there is “no such thing” as a safe teen driver; the adolescent brain is not fully developed—a reality that only experience and physical growth can remedy. However, there are steps that parents can take to lessen the hazards. For instance, parents can insist upon purposeful driving and a designated route (rather than joy riding), limit or prohibit passengers, share the family car rather than letting the teen have her own, and create a Teen Driving Agreement (TDA) to clarify rules. Hollister helps parents determine whether their child is ready to drive (some states’ teen driving laws are more lenient than others, so parents need to step up) and provides pro-active steps to ensure that safety comes first. This concise, practical, and potentially life-saving book should be required reading for every parent before their teen gets behind the wheel. Agent: Joy Tutela, David Black Literary Agency. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

"This concise, practical, and potentially life-saving book should be required reading for every parent before their teen gets behind the wheel." —Publishers Weekly

"This is an interesting addition to an underrepresented topic; recommended for all libraries." —Library Journal

Library Journal
After the tragic loss of his 17-year-old son to a car crash in 2006, Hollister became a national, award-winning advocate for safer teen driving laws. In this brief and concisely written text, he examines the real dangers behind teen driving and explores how parents can best work within that reality. Hollister does not include information about driving itself but instead focuses on helping parents make informed decisions for when their teens are on the road. In short, fact-filled chapters, he looks at baseline hazards and higher risk factors, what Driver's Ed isn't, graduated licensing, teen driving agreements, and the danger of passengers, to name a few topics. VERDICT The average teen driver has a one in 4,300 chance of dying behind the wheel. Given that the judgment part of the brain does not fully mature until ages 22 to 25, parents would do well to set standards and expectations early on, as risks will remain in place for years to come despite experience. This is an interesting addition to an underrepresented topic; recommended for all libraries.

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Product Details

Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
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Not So Fast

Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving

By Tim Hollister

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2013 Tim Hollister
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61374-875-6


My Story

During 2006, I was a regular, mainstream parent of a teen driver. I occasionally worried about my son's safety, but I was generally confident that the training I had given him — what state law required and the literature suggested — was sufficient.

On December 2, 2006, everything changed. My seventeen-year-old son Reid died in a one-car crash. Driving on a three-lane interstate highway that he probably had never driven before, on a dark night just after rain had stopped, and apparently traveling above the speed limit, he went too far into a curve before turning, then overcorrected, and went into a spin. While the physics of the moment could have resulted in any number of trajectories, his car hit the point of a guardrail precisely at the middle of the driver's-side door, which crushed the left side of his chest. Had the impact occurred eighteen inches forward or back, he would have survived. No alcohol, no drugs, no cell phone; his passengers were legal and he was well within the state's curfew for teen drivers. He died from speed, an unfamiliar road, and inexperience with how to handle a skid. His two passengers were injured and briefly hospitalized.

Reid's crash was a precursor to a string of horrific crashes in Connecticut. In August 2007, four teens died in one crash, and then in October, a seventeen-year-old driver killed himself, his fourteen-year- old sister, and her fifteen-year-old friend.

Reading news accounts of these other crashes, I reflected more intently on how I had — or hadn't — controlled Reid's driving. These tragedies focused me, and indeed, our entire state, on the dangers of teen driving. I found myself alternately defending my own conduct but then asking — well, if I did what I was supposed to, why was Reid dead?

Comparing other crashes to Reid's, and the actions of other parents to my own, allowed me to indulge the thought that I had been a responsible parent. We had allowed Reid to buy a safe, sensible Volvo, not a race car. I had educated myself about Connecticut's teen driving laws, made sure Reid understood them, given him more than the required twenty hours of on-the-road instruction, enrolled him in a driving school, demanded that he always wear his seat belt, revoked his driving privileges when he had disobeyed our household's rules, and even twice confiscated his car for a week or more. He drove crash- free for eleven months. Looking back, it did not seem that I had made some horrible, obvious mistake. So where did I go wrong? Would a stricter father's son still be alive?

Just a week before the first anniversary of Reid's crash, I was driving to work, listening to the morning radio news, when the announcer said that our governor was forming a Teen Safe Driving Task Force to revise Connecticut's laws, with the hope of reducing the recurring carnage on our roads. The report stated that bereaved parents would be among those asked to serve on the task force. When I got to my office, I called my state senator, my state representative, a friend who knew the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, and a colleague who knew the governor, and asked for their help in being appointed, which I was, a week later.

Our assignment was to review the state's teen driving laws. As we proceeded, I relived how I had trained Reid and how and when I had controlled his driving. I learned new facts about teen driving and discovered that while supervising my son, I had not been as well- informed a parent as I had thought.

In the late 1990s, Connecticut joined a growing list of states that adopted what are called "graduated driver's license" or "GDL" laws. New drivers — generally between fifteen and eighteen — face a prescribed classroom curriculum and a certain number of required driving hours supervised by an instructor, parent, or guardian. After the learner's permit stage, GDL rules delay new drivers from carrying passengers, usually for several months, and impose a curfew in the range of 9:00 PM to 1:00 AM. At eighteen, these drivers graduate to an unrestricted adult license. Beyond these basics, however, the state laws vary widely.

I learned that Connecticut in 2005-06 had one of the nation's more lenient laws, allowing teens to obtain a license as early as four months after turning sixteen, and with just twenty hours on the road and several hours of classroom instruction about speeding and drunk driving. For the first three months of being licensed, Connecticut teens could carry as passengers only a supervising driver and immediate family, but after that, they could pile their friends into their cars. The statewide curfew was midnight.

As I dug into the mountain of information made available to Task Force members, I remembered what I was thinking when I had let Reid drive. Reid's close friend Mike was a few months older, and his buddy Tom was a full year ahead; by early 2006, they both had licenses and cars. In January, Reid completed his learner's permit training and received his license. In lockstep with just about every other parent in our suburban town, my wife Ellen and I agreed to consider letting Reid buy a used car.

I took him out on lightly traveled back roads. I reviewed the state's recommended list of skills and situations to be taught to new drivers, and we spent time on each one. We practiced evasive maneuvers in an empty parking lot early on a Sunday morning. While taking driver's ed, Reid showed himself to me to be an alert, coordinated driver.

That our state had adopted GDL requirements was comforting. I assumed that the legislature, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the police had gotten together to formulate sensible rules that, if followed, would keep Reid safe.

Finally, I cannot deny — nor, I think, can any busy parent — that having my son drive was alluringly convenient for Ellen and me, living as we do in a suburban community in which walking is usually not an option. Reid getting his license provided an extra pickup and delivery service.

Ellen and I overlaid our own rules onto state law. We were to know his destinations and his whereabouts at all times. Like all of his friends, he had a cell phone and he was under orders to check in. We made it clear repeatedly that driving was a privilege and not a right. Our rules could be modified as needed based on particular circumstances, such as our judgment that he had not gotten enough sleep. Reid understood that when he arrived home, I would be waiting for him and I would conduct my own interrogation, checking for coherence and sobriety. On a few occasions when he missed his curfew, I confiscated his keys. Although I don't recall discussing it overtly with Reid, I think he also understood that I was regularly inspecting every nook and crevice in his car — just like his room — and I was keeping an eye on his mileage.

As I let the reins out on Reid's driving — longer periods in the car by himself, longer distances, driving at night or in bad weather — I relived my own driving experience and I wondered if I had inadvertently conveyed any bad habits to my son. To my relief, he continued to show himself to be a calm, coordinated driver, with a good sense of the position of the vehicle on the road. No news became good news.

In April, when Reid had been licensed for three months, an officer pulled him over for a moving violation, crossing two lanes without signaling. According to Reid, the violation was questionable. The fine was $204, which Reid paid from his own savings account.

As the summer wore on, I became concerned about Reid revving the engine — it was the only way he could make his clunky used car seem cool. I was not particularly alarmed but more concerned that he would rev the engine while on the road into an excessive speed and find himself with another expensive ticket. In late September, he was cited for driving 42 mph in a 25 mph zone. Because this was his second moving violation before turning eighteen, he not only incurred a fine but had to attend a driver retraining class at the Department of Motor Vehicles. He signed up for the last possible day: December 2.

I suppose that subconsciously I appreciated that teenage drivers are inexperienced and not yet mentally mature. Yet I did not personally know any family that had lost a teenage driver in a crash, I had survived my teen years, I knew my son, I had trained him, and I assumed that the state's laws would keep him safe.

But that's not what happened; Reid died six hours before he was due to attend the DMV retraining.

In my first two months serving on the Task Force, I sifted through a mountain of statistics, analyses, and reports and found that teen driving is more dangerous than I had understood while parenting Reid, and that Connecticut's GDL laws were weaker than I had realized. I had allowed Reid to drive in situations that were much more perilous than I had thought.

In addition to research, subcommittee meetings, and Task Force sessions, I met and spoke at length with police, psychologists, doctors, nurses, prosecutors, judges, school principals, driving instructors, social workers, traffic safety officials, and other bereaved parents. As I began to read and listen to facts and proposals for improving the laws, a question popped into my head and then repeated itself week after week, each time a bit louder and more tinged with disbelief: Why had I not learned all of this earlier? This was a maddening combination of outward — "Why didn't anyone tell me?" — and inward — "Why didn't I better educate myself?" Why had I not been more conservative in my decisions about Reid's driving? Like so many other parents, had I been seduced by the convenience of having another driver in the house?

During the first six months of 2008, the Task Force became my near obsession. We traveled to high schools across the state and appeared on statewide television. I was interviewed on WCBS radio about my re-education.

Within four months — a quickness rare in the world of public policy — the Task Force recommended, the governor endorsed, and the legislature adopted stricter rules for sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds: doubling of the required hours during the learner's permit stage; moving the curfew from midnight back to 11:00 PM; prohibiting teen drivers from transporting anyone other than parents, guardians, and siblings until licensed for a full year; suspending licenses, starting at thirty days, for moving violations (instead of just monetary fines); providing faster court prosecutions and driver retraining sessions; requiring a parent or guardian to attend a two-hour safety class with each teen during driver's ed; requiring all passengers of teen drivers to wear seat belts; and allowing law enforcement to confiscate a teen's license and impound the car for forty-eight hours if the situation warranted.

After the governor signed the bill before a bank of TV cameras and a crowd of legislators in the sun-splashed courtyard of a high school, I calculated the difference that these new laws would have made in the life of my son. Had the 2008 law been in effect in 2006, Reid would have had double the hours of required on-the-road training; Ellen or I would have attended a safety class with him while he had his learner's permit; his first moving violation (the double lane change) would have earned him a thirty-day license suspension; his second violation would have cost him his license for sixty days, plus a fine for license reinstatement; he would have taken his driver retraining class sooner; and he would not have been allowed to have the passengers who were with him when he crashed. The new laws were too late but not too little.

When all of this settled in my mind, there was no doubt that I had to find a way to communicate my new perspectives to other parents. It was undeniably true that I had not fully appreciated how dangerous teen driving is in the best of circumstances or how risk escalates in a variety of predictable and therefore controllable situations. Having read all of the available literature and consulted the mainstream sources, I started to think that parents need better information.

And so, in October 2009, I started speaking out, by launching "From Reid's Dad," my national blog for parents of teen drivers. Eighteen months and fifty posts later, I had the basis for this book.


Why There Is No Such Thing as a Safe Teen Driver

In 2009, the Wall Street Journal began a series of personal advice columns written jointly by its San Francisco Bureau Chief Steve Yoder and his teenage son Isaac. In their columns, father Steve offered advice to Isaac about how to succeed in college, while Isaac counseled his younger brother about how to succeed in high school. In one letter, Isaac told his younger sibling: "Obtain your driver's license early and make use of it. It will extend your boundaries and your freedom."

It's hard to argue with that advice. Getting a driver's license is a major step from childhood to young adulthood. Having a license allows teens to travel to school and extracurricular activities, get and hold a job, explore new places, broaden their knowledge of geography, and gain new perspectives on where and how people live and work.

Without knowing, I assume that Isaac's experience in getting his license was uneventful and a considerable source of pride to his parents, and probably a convenience in a family with a younger sibling who regularly needed transportation.

So, with all these allures and benefits embedded in a teen getting a driver's license, why did Isaac's advice to his younger brother make me shudder?

Because, unfortunately, there is no such thing as a safe teen driver. While getting a license "early" creates opportunities for education, employment, and exploration, it also elevates the risk of a disabling or fatal crash.

Why are all teens, including the levelheaded, risk-aware, and well- trained ones, at risk? There are four reasons:

• the human brain does not fully develop until we reach our early or mid-twenties, and the last part of the brain to mature is the prefrontal cortex, the part that provides judgment and restraint and counterbalances the already developed part that creates desire, excitement, and risk-taking;

• driving requires the continuous evaluation of hundreds of ever- changing factors and circumstances, and thus experts say that it takes three to five years of experience to become familiar and comfortable with the myriad situations that drivers encounter, not the twenty to one hundred hours that most states require for a teen to obtain a license;

• new drivers generally look at the perimeter of their car and focus on not hitting anything, rather than looking down the road where they would see developing situations and dangers; and

• we train teens on local, familiar roads, but then driving inevitably takes them to highways in unfamiliar places, so they must learn to drive while also trying to navigate.

Thus, teen drivers, no matter how well-intentioned, trustworthy, respectful, schooled in safe driving laws, and thoroughly trained in how to safely operate a car, do not have and cannot obtain the essential elements of a safe driver: a brain that quickly and accurately perceives and responds to risk and danger; judgment to deal with a variety of fast-moving and ever-changing situations that every driver faces; the confidence to look ahead down the road instead of focusing on the car's perimeter; the experience to concentrate on what the car's next maneuvers will be instead of how to execute them; and enough time behind the wheel so that most driving is with a familiar vehicle on a familiar road. These characteristics take considerable time, which cannot be cut short or accelerated.

The slow-to-mature brain is the most problematic characteristic; the teen brain is simply constrained physically and chemically. The prefrontal cortex — which provides the connectivity (a.k.a. wiring) that enables organization, planning, interpretation, and inhibition — is the last part of the brain to develop, typically being complete around age twenty-five. The lobe that generates emotion is in place years earlier, thus accounting for teens' penchant for reacting more from emotion than reason.


Excerpted from Not So Fast by Tim Hollister. Copyright © 2013 Tim Hollister. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Tim Hollister became a national authority and spokesperson for safer teen driving after losing his 17-year-old son Reid in a car crash in 2006. He served on a Connecticut state task force that overhauled his state’s teen driving laws; is the creator of From Reid’s Dad, a national blog for parents of teen drivers; and regularly makes appearances on regional television and radio. He was awarded the 2012 AAA Southern New England Traffic Safety Hero of the Year Award as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation National Public Service Award, the nation’s highest civilian award for traffic safety.  Sandy Spavone is the executive director for National Organizations for Youth Safety, a coalition of national organizations that promote youth empowerment and leadership and work to build partnerships that save lives, prevent injuries, and enhance safe and healthy lifestyles among all youth.

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Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am known as a more conservative and tougher parent than most.  Other parents love to have their kids with me and my kids because they trust that I "watch them like a hawk" and don't let kids get away with much.  I definitely am not the fun mom.  That said, this book really brought me up short as far as new driver policies go.  My oldest son is 21 and once again, I was considered more careful and restrictive that most in when and where i allowed him to drive.  My 2nd son just got his Jr. license 4 months ago, and i have treated his new driving status as I did my oldest.  Then I read this book and realized that I have missed the mark on many points.  His research backs up most of what I have often thought, but never said, because I figured people would think that I was overprotective, which I certainly am not. (My youngest is currently out trying out his new Christmas hunting rifle)   This book will strengthen my backbone in resisting kid and peer pressure, because now I know that my gut feelings do have validity.  I would love to buy several copies of this to give to some parents and coaches so that maybe we could all be on the same page in handling this rite of passage.  I doubt that it would be well-accepted so I won't, but I am getting a copy for my brother, whose oldest of 3 will be driving in a year.