It’s a rite of passage many kids and teens look forward to for years: getting behind the wheel for the first time. While many factors may influence when your child learns to drive, chances are that at some point between the ages of 15 and 18, your teen will ask you to take them out on the road. This is a completely new experience for your teen, but it’s important to remember that this is a learning curve for you as well, particularly if this is your oldest child and the first to learn to drive. Here are some tips and tricks to make both yourself and your child comfortable through the experience, and to be the most effective teacher you can be.
When you’re used to driving, being the passenger can be jarring and stressful, and even more so if the person in the driver’s seat is inexperienced. It’s important to remember to take a few deep breathes and make yourself comfortable with the idea of being the passenger. Remember that mailboxes and other objects on the side of the road will look closer than they usually do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your teen is riding the shoulder. Also, remember that you’re not the only one who’s stressed out. Getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time can be really scary, and the last thing an edgy teen needs is their parent or guardian yelling “Brake! BRAKE!” as they try to get a feel for the vehicle controls. Be patient with your new driver and keep in mind that calm, measured pointers and questions are a far more effective teaching tool then shouting and adding to their stress.
As a rule, teaching someone to drive is not like pushing someone in the deep end of a pool and letting them figure out how to swim. Actually, for the record, that’s not a great idea either. When teaching a teen how to drive, it’s best to start slow. Find a large, open parking lot, or plan a route on quiet back roads around your home. It’s a good idea to start with somewhere familiar to your child and discuss the route beforehand so they’re not overwhelmed by wondering where to turn or worrying about what’s coming next. You can even start by driving the route yourself, with them in the passenger seat, and talking about the things you encounter along the way. Maneuvering a round-about or four-way intersection may be much less stressful if they’ve watched you do the same thing recently.
Don’t Forget the Small Stuff:
If you’ve been driving for decades, there are probably plenty of little things you do without thinking. However, many of these little things are the foundation of safe driving, so it’s important to walk through them with your teen. Before you even leave the driveway, make sure they understand how to adjust the seat, steering wheel, and mirrors for their own comfort and visibility. Discuss all the resources within the car for visibility, and make sure they understand the importance of utilizing all their mirrors, as well as turning their head to check the vehicle’s blind spot. Scanning your mirrors and taking a quick look behind you is probably second nature every time you go to change lanes or merge, but a new driver may be completely unaware that a blind spot even exists. Emphasizing these behaviors, as well as things like always using turn signals and slowing down slightly when approaching intersections even when they have the right of way, can help form good habits in the long term.
As a seasoned driver, tuning in to your favorite radio station or following GPS directions are simple actions that don’t require much thought. For a new or inexperienced driver, however, any additional distraction can take precious attention away from the road. For now, keep the music off and allow your young driver to fully focus on the road. You should also avoid having additional people in the vehicle. Too many cooks in the kitchen is never a great idea, and having a spouse or another experienced driving piping up from the back seat and offering their own advice or ideas can be overwhelming to a new driver, not to mention make them feel even more pressured to drive perfectly. Similarly, younger children bouncing around in the back seat can be distracting to any driver, especially one who is less experienced. A quiet, distraction-free environment is the best place for someone to learn.
Look into Driver’s Ed:
Many states require some degree of formal driver education, at least if someone wants to get their license before the age of 18. Even if your state does not require driver’s ed to acquire a license, there are many benefits to enrolling your child in a course. Even states that don’t require the class often have requirements for a minimum number of practice hours, and having a professional instructor take your child on scheduled drives is a good way to take some of that responsibility off of your plate. Many parents may also feel more comfortable having a professional take their child on practice drives, particularly if they find driving with their teen stressful. It might also make your child feel less pressured to practice with someone else in the car. Finally, our friends at Audi Valencia tell us that many insurance providers will offer discounts or lower rates for young drivers who have completed a driver education course.
Learning to drive is an exciting time in every young person’s life, and doesn’t have to be a huge source of stress for the teen or their parents. By following these rules of thumb, you can make sure that you’re prepared to be the most helpful instructor you can be, and help your young driver feel comfortable getting behind the wheel.