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Status Report, Vol. 39, No. 4 | March 27, 2004 Subscribe

Outreach fails to boost parental involvement in licensing in Tennessee

Educational materials that provide tips on how to become more involved in teaching teenagers to drive are appreciated by parents, but the parents don't seem to change what they actually do. This is the main finding of an Institute study of parental practices as their teenage children go through Tennessee's graduated licensing process.

The graduated system in Tennessee requires teenagers to hold their learner's permits for at least six months before they can earn an intermediate or restricted license. During the six-month learning period, teenagers must complete a minimum of 50 hours of supervised driving practice. Ten of the hours must be at night.

For the study, parents of teenagers who were applying for learner's permits were divided into three groups. One group received welcome letters by mail with minimal advice about the need to supervise practice driving sessions and establish rules about vehicle use after earning a license. Another group of parents got a more detailed letter along with a booklet of advice on how to plan and undertake practice sessions of progressive difficulty. The booklet also provided a written contract, to be signed by both parents and teens, regarding additional driving restrictions after the learner stage. A third group of parents got both the booklet and a card in the mail every other month. The cards encouraged parents to provide practice driving time and set driving limits. The cards also gave advice on how to choose safer vehicles for their children to drive.

Telephone interviews were conducted with at least 500 parents from each group approximately 13 months after their children obtained learner's permits. Although parents overwhelmingly thought the booklets and reminder cards were helpful and said these materials should continue to be provided, the researchers found no discernible effects on any measure of parental involvement during the learner stage. Nor were there any measurable changes in the teenagers' driving behaviors.

Parents reported similar amounts of supervised driving across all groups. There were no differences in reported planning of practice sessions or the number of parents who reported having a contract with their children governing driving restrictions, both of which were recommended. Parents across all three groups reported similar numbers of crashes for their children.

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