While most state laws say that by age 16 teens are old enough to drive, it's up to you to decide whether or not your child's truly ready. Laurence Steinberg, PhD, professor of psychology at Temple University, a consultant on teen driving for the Allstate Foundation and author of The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting (Simon & Schuster), says that before giving the go-ahead, you should be able to answer "yes" to the following questions:
Modern technology offers parents some sneaky ways to find out whether their teen drivers are really obeying the rules of the road: For instance, airplane-like "black box" devices (such as those from RoadSafety.com) installed in your car activate a continuous tone if your teen drives above a set speed limit or neglects to buckle up. Also, a small memory card from the device plugs into the USB port of your computer for a readout of the driver's actions. Cost: about $300.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) track where your car is or has been and how fast it is driven. Long used by police and emergency workers, they are now available to parents (such as the BigBrother GPS locator from Securacom, about $700 when covertly installed).
Or to view what's happening in front of and inside your car, you might install DriveCam behind your rearview mirror. The camera is triggered to record when your teen accelerates, brakes, or turns too fast. Then watch the events on DriveCam's Web site. In a pilot study of 12 teens in Minnesota, DriveCam reduced risky driving behavior by 75 percent. Long used by limo fleets and ambulance services, the camera is becoming available through high schools at $720 per year.
While these devices may buy you peace of mind and improve your teen's driving practices, they're no replacement for a driving agreement. "A driving contract says, 'I trust you as an individual, but I'm making sure that I'm being clear about my expectations,'" says Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston. "Monitoring equipment, on the other hand, implies, 'I don't trust you.' You have to know your own kids, and if you don't trust them, they shouldn't be driving."How Can I Control the Situation?
"It's a mistake to give your teen a car right when he gets his license," says Dr. Winston. "Instead, you want to retain control over his car access in the first few months." Once your teen is ready for his own set of wheels -- at least one year after he earns his license -- follow these pointers: