Health & Fitness

Deciding when to let teen drive is about more than age

Your 16-year-old may be itching to get his driver's license. But just because he's reached that magic age doesn't mean he's ready to get behind the wheel.

Beyond making sure they know how to parallel park and merge onto the highway, parents need to make sure their kids are developmentally ready to get on the road, says Vicki Harper, a spokeswoman for State Farm.

"The number one thing parents need to know," Harper says, is that "research shows that the older the child, the lower their overall crash risk.

"That means that if a child starts driving at 17 rather than 16, he has a much lower risk of being in an accident."

The difference lies in the teenage brain, Harper says.

"It has to do with brain development, decision-making and all those things they're still working on when they're teenagers."

How can you tell whether your kid's brain is sufficiently developed? Here are Harper's tips:

* Rules. Does your teen follow rules well? When a child starts using a car, parents need to have rules about cellphone use, passengers, seat belts and other concerns. If your kid is rebellious and doesn't follow the rules in other realms, he or she isn't likely to follow them driving.

* Focus. Is your teen able to focus on tasks and pay attention to a task at hand?

"As they mature, this gets better," Harper says. "They get less scatterbrained."

Driving requires people to focus and to be aware of their surroundings.

If you sense your kid is still scatterbrained, you might want to wait on the license.

* Control. Harper says teen drivers' troubles often stem from their difficulty controlling their emotions.

"If they fight with their boyfriend or get mad at someone and drive, it's very unsafe," she says.

Ask yourself, "Is your teen someone who knows how to control emotions when he's angry or upset?

Is he going to get himself and his passengers home safe" despite a fight?

Harper encourages parents to assess these traits in their kids before handing over the keys.

"It's not just a date on the calendar," she says.