Got a teenage driver? You need a contract.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Teenagers look forward to the rite of passage that includes a learner's permit, the coveted license, and, finally, use of the family car. Parents view the same milestone with trepidation.

Parents usually are the ones who encourage children to grow and gain new experiences. When safety is involved, however, parents are understandably edgy. So along with the thrill of adolescent independence comes a dose of parental anxiety. And not without reason. Thousands of teenagers are injured and killed in automobiles each year. The majority of accidents involve newly licensed drivers, alcohol, and speeding.

How do parents express their concerns to teenagers who tune them out? Let's face it: Kids balk at lectures. And anything longer than a sentence or two is considered a lecture.

Recommended: Got your driver's permit? Top 5 things to know about your car.

Before our (then) 17-year-old daughter got her license, her father and I sat down to pull together our thoughts. We decided that writing down our concerns would be more effective than lecturing.

What resulted was the "Teenage Driver Contract," and it demanded fancy footwork before we had something we could all live with. Above all, teens are adamant about fair play and the need to be heard. They cooperate more willingly when they have input.

When I started drafting the agreement, I determined that safety was the area in which I would not budge. My husband and I have zero tolerance for drinking and driving or for exceeding the speed limit. Our kids know this.

Parents should decide whether and how cooperation at home affects car privileges. Determine the consequences of poor attitude and whether chores or carpooling or grades are connected to the keys. Be clear from the outset. Teenagers hate losing privileges for infractions that were not previously outlined.

In our case, when our daughter's attitude was out of step, we pulled the keys for three days. Though she was disappointed - to say the least! - she wasn't surprised. It was part of the original deal.

Decide how the expenses of gasoline, insurance, and maintenance will be handled, come to an agreement, and put it in writing. Part-time jobs offer an excellent opportunity for teenagers to develop life skills and manage money. Encourage your teenager to keep track of all car-related expenses and to file dated and detailed receipts for future reference.

The "Teenage Driver Contract" is short enough to be palatable, yet succinct enough to avoid confusion between what teenagers thought parents meant and what parents know they said. If a particular issue is unclear or disagreeable to any of the parties involved, hold off signing until everyone reaches a consensus.

Parents and teens should read and discuss each component. Sign and date it and treat the document seriously by posting it in a conspicuous spot. If a situation arises, parents can simply point to the car contract. No need to revisit issues that have already been defined. Lectures are minimized, and everyone is a winner.

Obtaining a driver's license is a big deal. Celebrate! Hand the keys to you-know-who, spring for dinner and a movie, and stop for ice cream on the way home.

Teenage driver contract

Dear ____________________,

Congratulations on earning your driver's license. We are proud of you, and confident that you have decades of safe, enjoyable driving ahead of you. Please remember that these rules are for your safety and the well-being of those around you. We love you more than you know. Mom and Dad

I understand and agree to the following: (Please initial):

1. I must exercise sound judgment every time I get behind the wheel. Sleepiness, emotional upset, loud music, an over-crowded car, being in a hurry, alcohol and/or other drug use, or dangerous road conditions do not constitute safe, prudent driving conditions. Ever.

2. Alcohol and/or other drugs will not be permitted in my car, nor will they be consumed by any other driver with whom I am traveling. No exceptions. I promise to call home for a safe ride if I need it, no matter the hour.

3. I must respect my parents' prerogative. If, for whatever reason, they feel uneasy with my driving in a particular situation, there will be no argument.

4. Possession of a driver's license is a privilege and a responsibility, not a birthright. I will adhere to the provisional-licensing laws and traffic laws for the safety of myself and others.

5. I will call home each time that my plans change significantly.

6. Each of my passengers is expected to wear an individual seat belt.

7. Friends may not borrow or drive my car unless it is an emergency.

8. I promise not to talk on the car phone while the vehicle is moving. Car phones are to be used for emergencies or to relay information.

9. My grade-point average and attitude are directly related to my use of the car. Therefore, a "C" average and my full cooperation must be maintained to keep my driving benefits.

10. Moving violations, including speeding, running traffic lights or stop signs, or illegal lane changes will result in suspension of my car privileges. I will pay for parking tickets and/or damage, if I am at fault.

11. As my earning power dictates, I will budget money for gasoline, car payments, and insurance. Also, I will help with general upkeep.

Discussed and signed on:

______________(teen driver's signature)

________________ (parents' signatures)

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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