Handing over the keys is a rite of passage. For a newly minted teen driver, it's a step toward independence. For mom or dad, it's a cue to become less involved.

That may be a big mistake.

Too often, parents are removing themselves from a teen driver's education at the precise time they need to still wield considerable influence, says a first-of-its-kind study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit research arm of the nation's largest motoring club.

Even after teenagers receive their licenses, parents can accelerate their young driver's learning curve and help them become better drivers by staying involved and providing ongoing teaching. Most don't.

There is a "widespread failure of parents to transfer their own wealth of wisdom about driving to their children," according to the study, released Monday to coincide with the start of Teen Driver Safety Week. "This is not surprising, as most adults are not aware of how much they know that is central to safe driving."

Nearly half of parents reported they wanted their teens to get "a lot of practice," yet only 1 in 4 mentioned practicing in a variety of conditions, such as bad weather, heavy traffic or on unfamiliar roads.

Forty-seven percent of parents tell AAA that even after their kids receive their license, there was still at least one road condition that made them uncomfortable allowing their teens to drive in without supervision. Yet parents don't take the next step and ensure supervised practice in those conditions.

Much of the driving practice that teens receive occurs during routine trips, the study says. Teens do not receive enough training in settings such as darkness, bad weather, entering and exiting highways and driving on rural roads.

Speeding up that learning curve can be critical. Teen drivers ages 15 to 17 are eight times as likely to be involved in a car accident than those just a little bit older, ages 18 to 24, if they're carrying passengers, says another new study from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Although the same study found the overall number of teen fatalities has fallen over the past decade, traffic accidents remain the No. 1 killer of teenagers.

"Teens continue to have the highest crash rate of any age group, so it's critical that parents are involved," said Dr. William Van Tassel, the AAA Manager of Driver Training Programs.

Some states are actively pushing parents to be involved. Connecticut and Massachusetts require parents or guardians to attend a two-hour training class before their new drivers receive their graduated-driver's licenses. In Northern Virginia, parents or guardians must attend a 90-minute safety program with their teens.

As part of its efforts to keep parents proactive, AAA has set up a website where parents can share the best driving advice they've ever received, and also is keeping parents sharp with a "Are You Smarter Than A Teen Driver?" quiz.

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.


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