Teaching Your Teen How to Drive

Obtaining a driving learner’s permit is a major milestone for teens, but it can be both exciting and terrifying for parents. Parents must quickly take the role of teacher, and we know all too well the possible dangers our teens will face on the roads.

It is not easy to teach all of the important driving 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 or the best way to merge into traffic. Additionally, parents are not trained teachers so it does not come easy to explain the basics 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 6 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. Follow road rules. 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. Keep Your Cool.

Your teen is going to make a lot of mistakes while driving at first. Avoid overreacting to their errors, and don’t make dramatic statements like “you’re going to get us killed!” Instead, remain calm and offer corrections in a positive way. For example, you might say very calmly, “You’re starting to get close to the edge of the road, so I would move a bit more towards the center. Good! Now that you’re in the middle of the lane, see if you can notice a reference point on the car that you can use to determine where you are in the lane.”

After a driving session, 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 same situation. Support and positive reinforcement work much better than criticism. Praise your teen every time they use good judgment!

4. 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.

5. 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 necessary skills. 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.

6. Teach Teens to Pull Over

Pulling over is a good safety habit for teens to get into. Let teens know that whenever they are distracted, they should find a way to pull over. The distraction could be a phone call, “urgent” text, or an argument with a passenger. Whatever the reason, they should know it’s better to pull over than to continue driving. You can start the habit by agreeing ahead of time that if emotions get heated while practicing together, they should pull over.

Final Thoughts…

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.

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