Teaching Your Teen to Drive

“Ugh…I mean, Yea! Driver’s training!” Perhaps no two words ignite such dread in the heart of a mother of a teenager like the words, “I got my permit!” Helping your kids become a safe driver is a matter of life or death – traffic crashes are the number one killer of teenagers. Here’s help 6 tops on teaching your teen to drive, and a safe driving contract for your teen.

1. Be patient. When you introduce a new skill, guide your child through two or three practice trials, and then allow them to perform the task without assistance. If he makes a mistake, repeat the lesson and guide them again step by step. Remember that a simple right-turn involves several steps–checking mirrors, signaling, checking blind areas, braking, positioning, checking for traffic before the turn, steering and recovery. To expect a beginner to follow all of these correctly during the early sessions may be asking too much.

2. Speak clearly. Give directions well in advance and always use the same terms. For instance, don’t say “accelerator” and then “gas pedal.” Tell where the action will take place and then describe the action. For example:  “At the next stop sign, turn right.” Use the word “right” to mean a direction only. In confirming a question, say, “That is correct.” This will prevent confusion.

3. Be Alert. Some beginners may give the impression of being in control but may, in reality, be unable to handle any sudden changes in conditions.

4. Don’t overload. A big part of being a good coach is reminding the driver to check traffic, to signal and to bring attention to potential hazards. But, remember that everything you say is a distraction for the driver. Be sparing in your comments, and avoid letting the beginner get into situations he or she can’t handle. Allow new drivers to learn from mistakes if the mistake does not present any risks.

5. Stop and discuss. When your teen does make a mistake, he or she may not understand what went wrong. Explaining and discussing while on the move is not very effective. Instead, stop as soon as you can, while the mistake is still fresh in their memory, and sort out the problem. Don’t jump on every mistake and make a big thing of it.  This will affect the beginner’s confidence and concentration. Try to stay calm. If you get anxious, your teen probably will too, which can affect performance.

6. Be a good role model. Your biggest contribution to your teen’s safety and driving performance is your example. Insist on a ground rule of mutual respect and understanding. Patience, courtesy and a willingness to improve will be your best assets.

Related Resource: Driving Under the Influence Contract

Adapted from material distributed by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.