MARIETTA - Inexperience behind the wheel puts many teen drivers at a disadvantage on the road, whether they're headed for a local restaurant during their school's open lunch hour, or just cruising area streets and highways.
Driving instructors like Dolores Holiday with Devola's Pioneer Driving School try to help their young students gain some of that road experience before they obtain their drivers licenses.
"For example, we encourage parents to let their kids drive on all types of roads, including gravel roadways or major highways," she said, noting parents often only allow their teens to practice driving on neighborhood side streets or parking lots.
Holiday said it's better for young drivers to learn how to handle a vehicle on all kinds of roadways while they have their learners permits and still must have an experienced adult driver riding in the car with them.
Over-confidence can be another issue for younger drivers, she said.
"They often assume they'll always have everything under control," Holiday said. "But we have students that I know will probably be involved in a crash within their first six months on the road because they're too over confident about their driving abilities."
That attitude can cause teens to take risks on the road and make poor decisions that may endanger themselves or other drivers.
In the wake of a two-car crash that sent four Marietta High School students to the hospital during their open lunch period last week, Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite said such accidents may be prevented if young drivers take a few precautions.
"Students need to allow plenty of time for travel," he said. "And they don't have to drive (as fast as) the speed limit. Stay alert and use caution."
Waite said seatbelts are important for both driver and all passengers in the vehicle, and he warned that a car loaded with chatting students can be a major distraction to teen drivers.
"Also, leave lunch early enough to get back to class on time without rushing," he said.
Holiday said wearing a seatbelt is the first and foremost lesson for her student drivers, and she agreed that teens are prone to distractions.
"You want to eliminate as many as possible by turning off cell phones or other devices," she said, adding that new drivers under the age of 18 should not have more than one passenger in the car which also helps prevent distraction.
"And they should not be driving at the posted speed limit," Holiday said. "Those limits are set for maximum road conditions, which rarely exist, so they should always drive below the posted limit."
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Student Driver Tips
* Get plenty of sleep. Many high schools schedule students for the early shift-and that means teen drivers are hitting the road at 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. Go to bed early enough to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Try to unplug from all devices at least an hour before bedtime to relax and fall asleep faster.
* If you're too tired to drive, don't. Take a break, sit in your car and rest for a few minutes, have some water or a caffeinated drink, or better yet, if possible, call a parent to come pick you up.
* Watch out for school buses. It's illegal to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children. Traffic on both sides of the road must stop for a stopped school bus on an undivided road.
* Observe the reduced speed limits around schools. Check posted limits and flashing signs during school hours. Also, obey school safety patrols and crossing guards' directions.
* Wear a seat belt every time you get into the car and make sure all passengers buckle up as well.
* Avoid using a cell phone, texting, fiddling with the radio, eating, drinking, putting on makeup, and talking to friends while driving. They can all take your focus off the road.
* Be careful and allow greater stopping distance when driving on wet leaves and on wet roads which can be slippery in the fall season.
* Many fender-benders happen in the school lot. A good strategy is to come a little early before the morning rush and leave a little late, after most other drivers have gone.