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When Your Teen Wants a Car

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Knowing If He or She Is Ready

We all know that kids mature at different rates. For that reason, deciding whether or not your child can handle the responsibility of having his own car is a judgment call.

Some kids make it easy to decide. They're either obviously mature and responsible or obviously immature and irresponsible. If your kid is typical, though, he's probably basically trustworthy and sensible, but subject to frightening lapses in judgment.

Car accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States, accounting for 36 percent of all deaths of persons aged 15 to 19 years. Obviously, you don't want your child to become a statistic.

Don't Go There

Parents should be aware of car surfing, an incredibly dangerous game that resulted in about 500 deaths between 1995 and 2000. Car surfers stand on the hood of a moving car. The person driving the car slams on the brakes, causing the surfer to fly off the hood. Most of those killed car surfing are between 16 and 24 years old.

Remember that teenagers often change quickly. If you have doubts over whether your son or daughter is responsible enough to own a car at age 16, wait for a year. Tell her that if she continues to mature and exhibit responsible behavior during the next year, you'll re-address the car thing when she's 17. Meanwhile, you can make sure she gets plenty of driver training, and you can let her use your car and observe her level of responsibility.

You also should observe her friends' behavior concerning autos and driving. If you ever observe, or hear about any of them driving irresponsibly, address the issue immediately. Think about limiting the number of people she can ride with in one car. It's a known fact that accidents happen more frequently when a lot of kids are in the vehicle. Some states have passed laws limiting the number of teenagers in one car without an adult present.

While we're on the subject of safety, consider these safety tips from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

  • Give beginning drivers as much supervised driving time as possible.

  • Teens should wait six months before driving with other teenage passengers.

  • Don't assume your teen drives the same way when you're not around as she does under your supervision.

  • Restrict unsupervised nighttime driving.

  • Select safe cars. Large cars with safety bags are extra safety features to consider when purchasing a car your teen will drive.

You know your child better than anyone, and you'll have to decide whether or not he's mature and responsible enough to have a car. If you decide that he's not, don't feel bad about denying him. Explain your reasoning and tell him you'll reconsider the matter in six months. Keeping your teenager safe is more important than keeping him completely satisfied.

Ann Landers, the syndicated answers lady, recently included in one of her columns a suggested driving contract between you and your child. The reason for the contract is two-fold. It serves as a reminder that driving a car is a serious responsibility, and it addresses potential driving situations before they occur. The contract, Landers says, should include the following stipulations.

  • If your child gets a traffic ticket, she's responsible for paying the cost of the ticket, as well as the difference in the insurance premium for as long as the premium increase is in effect.

  • At no time will your child ever drink and drive, or carry any alcohol in the car.

  • Your child must agree to pay for any damage he causes to the car that is not covered by insurance.

  • He will never have more people in the car than there are seat belts, and he will not begin driving until all passengers have buckled up.

  • She will keep the car clean, refill the gas tank, check the oil, and so forth.

We think that this, or a contract between you and your child that you come up with on your own, is a great idea. Be sure that your child understands the consequences of not living up to the agreement, and be sure that the consequences are serious enough to get his attention.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in Your 40s and 50s © 2002 by Sarah Young Fisher and Susan Shelly. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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