Jayne Ubl-Johnson and her husband were active in their sons' hockey pursuits, but when it came to driving, like many parents they left the instructing to driver's education courses.
Then in 2004 her sons, 16 and 17, both totaled different cars in accidents six weeks apart. No one was seriously hurt, but it was a wakeup call: She realized that parents spent little to no time on their teens' driving safety skills.
"It's so embedded in us that when they're small children and in sports, you have to go meet the coach and learn how to make them better," she said. "But then when they're teens you sign a sheet and hand them off to driver's education."
Ubl-Johnson, an advocate at Drive Safe Ride Safe, and others called for greater parental involvement in teen driving at the fifth annual Teen Driving Summit held by the Metro Area Safe Communities, a statewide conglomeration of public safety agencies.
Many teens who attended the event Wednesday in Maplewood said they would welcome parental involvement.
"It would help make parents aware" of the issues facing teen drivers, said Austin Baab, 16, of Wabasha.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety is trying to encourage more parents to participate by holding programs across the state in partnership with local police and community groups. Gordy Pehrson launched the Parent Awareness pilot program about a year and a half ago at 17 sites statewide to teach parents about laws affecting teen drivers, how to communicate with teens and the greatest safety risks to teenage drivers. One piece of information he shares is that between 2001 and 2010, traffic crashes killed 346 Minnesotans between ages 15 and 17. In that same period, 180 died from suicides, 99 from miscellaneous unintentional injuries, 80 from cancer and 67 from homicide.
Pehrson also secured a $20,000 grant from the Ford Motor Co. and a $10,000 grant from the Governors Highway Safety Association to launch the Teen Driving Skills and Parent Awareness Program last August at St. Cloud State University. About 220 teens and 210 parents attended four sessions held at the school's Minnesota Highway Safety and Research Center.
The four-hour class gives teens a chance to practice driving on a track with an instructor, practicing avoidance maneuvers, in-car distractions, skid control and how to manage their cars out of a ditch. Parents watch from bleachers with the aid of their own instructor.
The program was so popular (a family flew in from Vermont to participate) that the university and center offered sessions in September, November, January and will host several more this year.
"It helps that both parties are hearing the same information," said Larry Nadeau, the center's director of outreach, on teaching teens along with their parents. "There's some sense of shared responsibility."
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib