Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, killing more youths every year than drugs, alcohol and violence combined. The main underlying factor in nearly all of these crashes? Inexperience. National Teen Driver Safety Week, Oct. 16-22, underscores the need for parents to seek opportunities to develop their teens' driving skills in a variety of scenarios to a safe level of competence, and to scrutinize those skills throughout the learning-to-drive process and beyond.

In a study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety last year, nearly half of parents reported that after the supervised permit stage there was still at least one condition in which they did not feel comfortable letting their teen drive. However, despite this concern, more than a third allowed their teen to obtain a license within a month of becoming eligible.

Parents are the key ingredient in ensuring their teen has the right training before allowing them to get behind the wheel alone and share the road with others. However, the study also showed that schedules are squeezed, nearly 70 percent of parents reported that opportunities to practice driving were limited.

What can busy families do to prepare their teen to be safer drivers? For starters, parents should understand that they shouldn't navigate this process alone. In an effort to empower parents through the learning-to-drive years, AAA has developed a teen driver website, The site provides a wealth of information targeted to where they are in the learning process - from preparing to drive, through the learner's permit stage, to solo driving.

In addition, parents should familiarize themselves with the following tools and resources:

• Dare to Prepare. This free, award-winning workshop provides parents and teens with critical information they need to know before teens take the wheel.

• Parent-teen driving agreement. Once your teen is ready to take the wheel, a parent-teen driving agreement can help clearly spell out the rules and expectations for everyone, and should be posted in a visible spot in your home. Sample contracts can be downloaded for free.

• Quality driving school. Professional instructors can provide comprehensive training that addresses the mistakes new drivers are most likely to make. Parents can select a AAA-approved driving school in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

• Driver training programs. Several programs are available, including teenSMART - a computer-based teen driver safety program designed to make teens three times safer on the road.

Navigating the learning-to-drive process can be a scary and overwhelming experience for parents and teen alike. However, there are a variety of resources available to ease the journey.

• Linda Gorman is communications and public affairs director for AAA Arizona. Reach her at (602) 650-2716 or

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