Every parent’s nightmare

I promise is an innovative scheme that helps take the worry out of teen driving for
their parents, yet still preserves the independence teens crave and must have.

(as printed in The Hamilton Spectator, Dec. 11, 2001)

Some readers, especially parents may know me from my
workshop, “Raising Kids Without Raising Cane,” from local radio or TV or from
articles I have contributed to the Spectator. But in case anyone didn’t notice, I
concern myself with the well-being of kids.

Well now those kids I used to talk about are a little older
and they are entering the most dangerous stage of growing up – adolescence.

Perhaps because my own son is moving through this stage
that I have set my sights on adolescence, or maybe it is just because of having read so
many tragic stories in our own community that I am concerned for the well-being of teens.

And it is driving the family car that draws my attention to them.

Not only are teenage drivers are the highest risk group for
crashes, but car crashes at the hand of teenage drivers is the single greatest cause of
death and permanent injury to teens across North America.

Driving is about the most nerve-wracking rite of passage for the parent of a teen.

Teens look to this rite of passage as a signal of their
maturity and ever-burgeoning independence – a milestone, the postponement of which
would signal weakness to their peers. A potent parent-teen dynamic lives here. At some
point however, the teenage novice driver seeks to drive solo.

From a human developmental point of view, this couldn’t happen at a worse time. Adolescence
is a time of spreading wings, risk taking and the belief of invincibility.

Independence from parents is paramount, yet without
resources for true independence teens are caught in the bind of relying on parental
resources to paradoxically flex their own might. Parents live through this dynamic, often
by holding their breath and hoping for the best – a head in the sand approach.

Many feel coerced to let go the reigns of their teen’s
freedom against the demands of normal adolescent development, but again, against the
backdrop mixture of fear and hope. How can parents manage the dilemma of facilitating this
rite of passage while affording maximum protection to their teen and community?

Driver Education has been the mainstay of parents approach
to the issue of new driving training and safety. Second to that and more recently, parents
rely on legislation such as graduated licensing to stipulate the rules and procedures with
respect to becoming an approved vehicle operator for road use.

Interestingly though, Government of Ontario research
available in 1998 and supported by previous research clearly demonstrates that while
graduated licensing is effective in reducing car crashes, driver education is not.

While this appears counter-intuitive, the Government of
Ontario statistics show that the likelihood of a car crash is actually 45% greater for
those who have attended driver education than those who did not attend. (Graduated
Licensing System Evaluation, Interim Report ’98, Ministry of Transportation –
Ontario, Safety Policy Branch)

With respect to modifying teen behaviour to reduce the
likelihood of harm it is generally shown that education alone is of little value.
Education sounds nice and is politically acceptable but its measurable effect on
adolescent behaviour is dubious.

The evidence for this comes from sexual health research,
cigarette smoking research, seat belt use and the aforementioned research report of the
Ontario government regarding driver education.

Sexual health of teens improves not from education alone, but when they are directly
provided tools (read condoms) to reduce sexually transmitted diseases.

Smoking in teens is directly related not to education, but
to the price of a package of cigarettes – too expensive and they reduce smoking.

Seat belt use is directly correlated to laws requiring
their use and then to the rate of enforcement.

How does a parent ever relinquish the keys to the family
car in view of this and knowing that one in four teens will have a collision? How can they
even think of doing so? How do they balance their teen’s legislated rights to drive
against a community obligation to provide some measure of safety? What are the obligations
of parents and teens?

Enter a new initiative designed to work through this
dynamic and offer an opportunity to reduce the risk associated with new teen drivers.

The I Promise Program helps parents and teens
come to agreement on issues that relate most to teen car crashes. Together they discuss,
negotiate and complete a parent-teen mutual safe driving contract.

The document provides the basis of a social contract between parent and teen and encourages
discussion on those issues that relate most to the risk of car crashes.

To seal the contract a decal is placed in the rear window
of the car that displays a toll free phone number. This enables community reports on
driver behaviour. Calls are taken by a professional call center trained to weed out false reports.

Reports are mailed to only the contact person registered
for the information too be managed as per the pre-negotiated terms of the contract. This
makes real accountability possible.

We know that despite what may be said about the relationship between parents and teens,
parents still have the most profound influence in their teens’ life.

Research from teen sexual behaviour demonstrates that those
parents who discuss sexual behaviour with their teens and were clear as to their values
had teens who were less sexually active. (Teen Assessment Project (TAP) a University of
New Hampshire Cooperative Extension project, 1998 – 1999)

Hence the value and importance of the parent-teen contract
is that it provides a tool and process for parents to negotiate responsible road use.

Hypocrisy is removed when the word mutual is added and the
teen learns that the rules are just as applicable to the parent as to the teen.

This builds rapport and mutuality between parent and teen
and heightens the teen’s responsiveness to the program. Both are bound by an
agreement aimed to enhance safety and reduce the risk of car crashes. The program rests on
the maturity of both.

When our son became licensed as an independent driver (G2)
we completed the contract together and placed a rear window sticker on our family car.
Now, 6 months later, there has been no reports on our vehicle and our son has thus far
made it through the first 6 months as a new driver without incident.

We have had this program in development for almost two
years now. During that time some 1,600 Canadian teens have died and another 60,000 have
sustained injuries in teen-driver related car crashes. As we move into the new year we
seek to make a difference here.

Police across Canada have welcomed this initiative, as has
the Minister of Health, Allan Rock and Minister of Transportation, David Collentette.
Their letters of support can be read on the programs Web site: www.ipromiseprogram.com

While the program is now available directly to parents of
new teen drivers, we have also been working diligently to see the program made available
through insurance companies.

I am pleased to report that the Province of Ontario will be
the first jurisdiction, worldwide, to have the I Promise Program made available by an
insurance company, when the Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company begins
distribution next month. They are to be applauded.

December is a month when many are focused on issues of safe
driving. Every parent wants their teenage son or daughter to return home safely each and
every time they take the car.

The I Promise Program can help and could be just the thing
to help ease parents anxiety when they hand over the keys to their kids.


Gary Direnfeld, Executive Director, I Promise Program
20 Suter Crescent,
Dundas, Ontario, Canada L9H 6R5
(905) 628-4847
[email protected]