8 Tips to Teach Your Teen How to Drive
Current research shows that parents are not teaching their teens necessary driving skills. That’s not to say that parents aren’t trying! It is not easy to teach skills that come so naturally to an experienced driver. Parents have had their license for so long that they don’t have to consciously think about how hard to step on the brake in different situations or the best way to merge into traffic. Additionally, parents are not trained teachers so it does not come easy to explain the “how-to’s” of driving. Despite these challenges, teaching driving skills could be a matter of life or death, so parents must take every chance they can to make sure teens are prepared to be behind the wheel.
Follow these 8 essential tips for teaching your teen how to drive:
1. Role Model.
Long before your teen ever gets their learning permit, you are teaching them driving skills because they are watching what you do in a vehicle. You cannot expect your teen to buckle their seat belt if you never do, even if you tell them how important it is. You must model the behavior that will keep your teen safe behind the wheel.
- Always buckle your seat belt before you start the car, and require all passengers in your car to buckle up.
- Avoid anything that distracts you while driving. If you don’t want your teen talking on a cell phone, fiddling with the radio, or eating while driving, don’t do those things when your teen is riding with you.
- Make sure you’re not speeding or tailgating. And, certainly don’t model “road rage.”
2. Know the Risks.
The first six months after getting a license are the most dangerous times for any driver. Before you let your teen even practice behind the wheel, take the time to talk to them about the major dangers:
- Nighttime Driving. Approximately 40% of all fatal crashes involving teens occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Driving at night poses challenges for inexperienced drivers due to poor visibility, fatigue, and greater increase of driver impairment.
- Driving with Teen Passengers. Wanting to show off for friends with loud music, speeding, tailgating, or unsafe driving behavior is a major problem for young drivers. Even chatting with their friend can distract them from watching the road.
- Distracted Driving. Over 40% of American teens admit to texting or emailing while driving. Cell phones, radios, and food often serve as distractions for young drivers.
- Not Using Seatbelts. Teens are the worst offenders for not wearing a seatbelt. Over half of 16 to 20 year olds involved in fatal car crashes were not wearing seatbelts.
- Speeding. Almost 40% of males between the ages of 15 and 20 who were involved in fatal car crashes were speeding. Taking risks is very common among teens, and they simply don’t always think through the consequences of driving too fast.
- Tailgating. Not leaving enough following distance leads to a large number of car accidents for teens. Inexperienced drivers do not realize how much braking space they need.
- Insufficient Scanning Ahead. Inexperienced drivers often only look directly in front of the car, which leads to missing important details, such as pedestrians crossing the road or traffic lights.
3. Know Which Skills Teen Drivers Need
When you are an experienced driver, you might take for granted all the different skills you need for driving! Here is a list of the skills your teen needs to know and practice behind the wheel, starting from the most basic and progressing to advanced:
- Turning at the right speed. Using turn signals and turn lanes.
- Braking smoothly and gradually slowing to a stop.
- Accelerating smoothly (steadily increasing to a safe speed within the posted limit).
- Approaching intersections controlled by stop signs or lights.
- Determining right of way.
- Being courteous to others.
- Changing lanes.
- Backing up the vehicle.
- Maintaining appropriate speed.
- Scanning for and identifying hazards.
- Keeping a safe following distance.
- Sharing the road with cyclists, pedestrians, and school buses.
- Driving in a school zone.
- Driving in a parking lot.
- Reacting to an approaching emergency vehicle.
- Merging into traffic.
- Identifying road signs and exits.
- Approaching a toll booth and paying tolls.
- Passing other cars.
- Parallel parking.
- Driving in different weather conditions.
- Driving at night.
4. State Your Expectations
You must clearly state your expectations of the rules and responsibilities for your teen. One of the best ways to do this is by creating a contract with your teen which outlines the rules and the consequences for breaking them. For example, you might take away driving privileges if you find out your teen was texting while driving. Since research shows that a teen’s risk of being involved in a crash increases exponentially with each peer passenger in the car, you should consider requiring your teen has no peers in the car for the first 6 months.
5. Start Practicing
The single most important thing you can do to help your teen stay safe on the roads is to allow as much supervised practice behind the wheel as possible. As soon as your teen gets their learner’s permit, you should begin practicing! The first couple of times they are behind the wheel, have them practice in an empty parking lot just to get a feel for turning, accelerating, and braking. Then, have your teen try a low traffic road in a neighborhood. Those initial practice sessions should be short in length. After that, have your teen drive everywhere you go together, as long as their skill level matches the route (no interstates until they have had a significant amount of practice), and gradually work your way up to longer driving time and more complicated situations. As they progress, it is important that you vary the routes, time of day, and driving conditions in which your teen drives so that they can gain confidence in a wide range of driving situations.
6. Give Clear Instructions
Teaching your teen to drive is stressful for both of you, which can make tensions run high and increase the chances of an argument. Before you get in the car, decide how you will give instructions so that they are clear. For example, try not to yell “be careful” or “watch out,” because those commands don’t offer any useful information. Instead, be clear with your language so they know what you want them to do. Take time to help them become aware of potential hazards. Young drivers have a tendency to look only as far as the car in front of them, so remind them to keep an eye on the traffic several cars ahead and to the sides so that they notice pedestrians, emergency vehicles, cars braking up ahead, roadblocks, and traffic signals. Another common problem when instructing a teen to drive is saying, “right,” if your teen asks a question, which could mean “turn right.” Say “correct” when you are responding to them.
7. Don’t Rush
While your teen may be old enough to drive, they may not be mature enough or they may not have mastered the skills quickly enough to truly be a safe driver. Do not feel pressured to teach your teen all the skills at one time, and do not feel rushed to let your teen get their license until they can demonstrate that they can safely maneuver through the skills listed above. You do not want your teen to be a danger to themselves or others. Keep letting your teen drive you everywhere you go until you feel confident that they can safely handle a variety of driving situations. If you feel that you and your teen are not working well together as teacher and student, then you should check with your community to see what options they offer for driver’s education.
8. Teach Teens to Pull Over
As we have mentioned, teaching your teen to drive will be stressful for both of you, but arguing while driving only makes the situation worse, and possibly dangerous since it will distract your young driver. Agree ahead of time with your teenager that if emotions get heated, you will take a time out by pulling over to the side of the road. Once your teen has pulled over, everyone should take a moment to take a deep breath and then discuss what happened. You should explain what you saw your teen do while driving that was both right and wrong, and listen to your teen’s point of view of the situation. Once the discussion is finished, you can get started driving again. Pulling over is a good safety habit for teens to get into – it is better for them to pull over when distracted (by an argument, a phone call, or an “urgent” text) than to try to continue driving.
While driving with your teen may feel stressful, it is an essential skill they need to develop in order to become a responsible adult. Their ability to handle a vehicle not only impacts their own safety, but also the safety of those around them. Invest the time it takes to create a safe driver – it’s a skill set that will be invaluable to them for their entire life.