TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV)– Tom Simmons spends hundreds of hours each year helping young, inexperienced drivers. 

As the owner of Simmons Driving School in Terre Haute, he believes parents should sit down with their kids as they get ready to go behind the wheel to reiterate the importance of the simple rules.

“Number one is just make sure your kids are doing the basics,” he said. “ Check your blindspots, make sure your speed is conducive to the environment around you, make sure the safety zone around your vehicle, which is basically a 10-foot parameter around it, make sure that is a safe zone.”

Oct. 15th represents the start of National Teen Driver Safety week, and it comes as many school corporations around the Wabash Valley prepare for fall break. With the Covered Bridge Festival kicking off this Friday, Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse said he thinks it’s a good time to offer young drivers important reminders. 

“I want kids to have a good time because they’re kids and they’re supposed to, but when you’re driving, the driver needs to be aware of the surroundings because all it takes is one other driver to make a mistake and they’re unable to respond or react to that.” he said. 

It may seem like common sense– but Plasse said in his time in law enforcement, he consistently sees drivers putting themselves and others at risk with distractions. 

“The most important thing is pay attention when you’re driving, don’t be distracted. Cell phones, obviously you can’t use those in Indiana, state law, texting is the same thing, you take your eyes off the road and you’re distracted,” he said. 

Simmons said his two rules for first-time drivers are to avoid driving with passengers for six months, and to always avoid using their phones. 

He believes it’s also on parents to set a good example.

“I think the biggest struggle is when parents don’t model the behavior of they are wanting their children to abide by,” he said. “The last thing you do is what see your parents do, drive with their knee and start texting like this. And every single kid I’ve said that to said, ‘Yeah, I’ve seen mom and dad do it.”

Teen driving deaths have fallen significantly– from a high that neared 10,000 in the 1970’s, to around 3,000 in 2021. But Simmons believes this number can continue to fall with good education– and good behavior on the roads.

“Any given year, there are about 21 million new drivers on the road throughout the nation.  That’s a lot of new kids so I would also encourage the experienced drivers to have a little bit of patience as well.”