If the teen asking this question is a newly minted driver, of course the answer should be "Yes, sure. Where do you want to go?" Drive time is precious for conversation, for teaching and for assessment of the driver's skill. To corroborate this, a new study from Virginia in the December issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests that crash, near-crash, and risky driving is significantly reduced in novice teen drivers when a parent is present.
That might not seem too surprising except that in practice in the real world we often need to remind parents of adolescents that their presence is critical in raising good offspring, whether it's good drivers, students, siblings or responsible drinkers. Most of us accept that risk taking and adolescence go together. But, in an accompanying editorial in the Journal it is pointed out that teens do seem to know how to curtail risky behavior when a grownup is around. So it's no surprise that parents lowered the rates of crashes/near-crashes by 75% and the rates of risky driving (measured by an ingenious on-board computer that recorded g-force, acceleration, gps data, and images of passengers) were lowered by over two thirds with a parental presence.
What is interesting, however, was that the presence of "risky friends" (based on a questionnaire filled out by the teen driver) doubled the likelihood of a crash/near crash or risky driving. As parents can we choose who drives around with our kids? Can we help them avoid the peer pressure of encouraging unsafe or distracted driving practices? Graduated driving programs have mandated the number of non-family member passengers and effectively reduce crashes. But it's not always possible to choose the friends who jump in the car in the high school parking lot once the graduated period has lapsed. But it may be worthwhile reminding one's own "risk-taker" child about the impact of like-minded friends in the car.
The third finding in this study which is a bit surprising is that kids drove in a more risky way when they were alone (allowed in the state of Virginia for new drivers) than when they were with peers of a non-risky sort. This is a small study which would need repeating but gives us pause about unaccompanied young drivers.
What is the lesson? Kids are probably at their absolute best when a parent is around. So if there is any doubt about "road readiness" when Mom or Dad is in the front seat (or in my personal experience if the approval of a responsible older sibling is in question) more practice time should be in order before letting that tether out any further.