Tips on Teaching Your Teen to Drive

Teaching your teen to drive has long struck fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. The process can produce anxiety for parents and teens alike, as both struggle with transmitting knowledge of the vehicle, its safe operation, and controls. While professional driver education courses are available and valuable (we recommend them), often a large amount of training still falls on parents to provide, especially at the beginning of driver education. Here, we go over the basics of getting your teen on the road safely, and developing responsible driving habits.

Start With Basics

You’ll want to start with the absolute basics to make sure your teen is comfortable even before they get behind the wheel. Put them in the driver’s seat and demonstrate how to adjust the seat and mirrors. The steering wheel tilt might need to be adjusted as well, and provide an explanation of all the displays and functions of the turn signals, lights, wipers and horn.

Next, demonstrate the parking brake release. Go over starting the vehicle, and when the vehicle starts, explain all the emergency warning light indicators. When done, demonstrate turning off the vehicle. This is all you need for a first lesson, and now your teen will feel they know the vehicle when they actually set out on their first trip.

Start Somewhere Safe and Easy

For your teens first foray into driving, it’s best to start in a safe environment with the least amount of distractions possible. While it might be tempting to do a simple drive around the block, an even better option is an empty parking lot. Here, you can let your teen get a feel for the vehicle and practice basic low speed maneuvering and braking.

Once your teen demonstrates basic control of the vehicle, bring them to a quiet residential area where they can practice situational awareness – keeping a lookout for cars exiting driveways, stop signs etc. For the next few lessons, stick to slower speed areas, and make sure your teen is aware that the posted speed limit is to be followed in excellent conditions only, and that in adverse weather, in heavy traffic, or among lots of pedestrians they should travel slower.

What to Practice

Start varying your routes. You’ll want to practice turning, accelerating and braking smoothly, approaching a variety of intersection types, determining right-of-way, navigating single lane and multi-lane roadways, changing lanes and merging safely, maintaining speed, scanning for and identifying hazards, maintaining a safe following distance, accommodating cyclists, pedestrians and school buses, driving in school zones, reacting to emergency vehicles and using turning lanes.

Changing Conditions

As your teen masters more and more skills, you’ll want to expose them to different situations and challenges. Driving at different times of day or night, traffic levels like rush hour, and varying weather conditions like rain, fog and snow. If you’re giving these lessons in the summer months, be sure that you add a few winter driving lessons to your teens repertoire when the snow does finally show up, even if your teen already has their license at that point. Snow and ice can be very dangerous, and it is important your teen is prepared.

Highway Driving

Driving on a multi-lane highway can be dangerous and scary. When taking this leap, start driving in these areas at times of lighter traffic. Your teen can practices merging into traffic, lane keeping, and maintaining following distance. Once your teen is proficient, move to times of higher traffic, and even the dreaded rush-hour. You’ll want to advise your teen that higher speeds require a longer following distance, emphasize the need to check blind spots, the danger of large trucks. It’s also important to anticipate interchanges and maintain a safe zone around your vehicle in case you need to take evasive action.

Driving Alone

The final step along this whole process is when your teen finally takes the step of driving alone. It is up to you to decide when your teen is ready to get his/her license and drive alone. You may want to consider whether your teen has had sufficient practice in varying conditions, and whether you and your teen are confident in an ability to handle most situations. Is your teen aware and confident on the road, and do they react to hazards? Your teen should be wearing their seatbelt and demonstrate a healthy respect for the vehicle and other drivers. How your teen handles responsibilities in other areas of their life can be a good indicator of how they’ll react on the road.

It’s ok to decide that your teen needs more practice before qualifying for their license, and it is better to wait than allow a situation to arise where they are unprepared and in over their head. Don’t worry, with enough practice and exposure to many conditions and situations, your teen will eventually be able to take this final step with confidence, and you can rest easy knowing that you’ve prepared them to the best of your ability, and that they have fully stepped up to the responsibility of driving safely.

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