Teaching Your Teen How to Drive

Too often, kids get a learners permit and never get to drive. Start your young driver in the neighborhood, in parking lots or other low traffic areas. After several weeks, let them drive in more traffic. Don’t expect too much at first, but don’t lower standards. Remember, what your children know about driving they have learned from watching you.

Avoid High Stress Turns

For the first few months, avoid situations where your young driver will need to cross traffic, such as left turns. This is an extremely “high risk” maneuver and your child will not have developed the perception and judgment skills to safely complete this maneuver.

  • Later on, evaluate your teens’ driving skills. Look for:
  • Driving with two hands
  • Use of turn signals
  • Smooth, steady acceleration
  • Steady speed
  • Smooth braking
  • Ability to keep the car in the center of the lane
  • Use of mirrors

During the first year, while you are still in control, constantly remind your young driver of the importance of paying full-time attention behind the wheel. The events leading up to a crash are measured in seconds, not minutes and looking away briefly can result in death or paralyzing injury.

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Remember that night driving presents special challenges. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that in 2002, 41 percent of teenage motor vehicle crashes occurred between 9 pm and 6 am. Be aware of the problems created by night driving and make sure your son or daughter understands them. Night driving affects effects depth perception, general vision and our ability to determine approximate speed of the oncoming traffic.

After the first four months of restricted driving situations and times, your teen should be moving into driving all the time. This is another tough transition for parents. During the past few months you have lectured on the dangers and potential hazards caused by other drivers. Now it’s time to let them drive and help them watch out for the other guy.

Remind Them of Tunnel Vision

All new drivers, not just teens, employ tunnel vision: they tend to see only what’s immediately in front of them (it’s a reason kids frequently run through stop signs and traffic lights). They don’t use peripheral vision and they don’t scan. This is an important skill you will need to work on with your teen.

Start by telling them they should be looking 4, 5, and 6 car lengths ahead, scanning the sides of the roads and intersections well before they get there and using the mirrors so they know what’s going on around them. When you pass a street sign ask, what the sign said. When you pass a car at an intersection, ask about the color of the car. Don’t let the driver stare; these important bits of information should only require a quick glance.

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Ease Your Teenager into Driving

While the state says you must obey traffic laws to keep your driver’s license, it’s even more important for parents to establish “in-house” rules that must be followed for the teen to keep their license. Most states require that a parent or guardian sign for anyone under the age of 18. The state also allows you to revoke the license by withdrawing your signature. Understanding the risk involved in operating an automobile is important for parents so they can establish their own “in-house” rules.

Don’t Count on Driver’s Education

Just because your teen completes a driver’s education class, don’t think they are qualified or prepared to drive. Driver’s Ed might be a convenient way to learn the basics, but parents should know that most Driver’s Education classes do very little to prepare their child to survive on the road.

Learning to drive is an “our” experience and you’ll be surprised at what you learn as well. Before you start the car for the first time, stop and have your teen look at the dashboard and become familiar with the controls. Adjust the seat: the driver should be at least 12 inches from the steering wheel and arms should be bent slightly at the elbow when holding the wheel. Check visibility in the mirrors.

Unless you’re driving a “stick” or “standard” transmission, drive using one foot. The heel of the foot should be located on the floor between the accelerator and the brake pedal so the driver’s heel never leaves the floor. The foot should be able to shift to the left for the brake and to the right for the accelerator.

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Most importantly, emphasize that the car never moves until EVERYONE is buckled up. It’s the law and must be an “in-house” rule, too. Violation of the seat belt rule should result in loss of driving privilege for a period of time.