Think back to your first time behind the wheel. Did you slam on the accelerator too hard or panic at the sight of a stop sign and jerk to a stop way too early? Oh yeah, those were fun times. Like dealing with zits wasn’t enough. You were probably pretty nervous back then, but wait: you’re guaranteed to be even more petrified the first time you slide into the passenger seat with your new teen driver. It may be hard, but this is a big part of growing up for most kids, so try to pretend that they’re not a hormonal bag of emotions and follow these simple tips to get your kid ready for the road.
1. Start Slow
Take this advice literally. If you live in the suburbs, the best place to start teaching your teen to drive is probably an empty school or church parking lot. Let them get a sense of how the accelerator, brakes, and steering systems work, then show them how to check their mirrors, use their turn signals and operate other basic in-cabin controls. Take your time with this part of the process and talk it out afterwards if necessary.
2. Graduate to the Road
Remember how excited you were the first time you drove on a real road? When you do finally get your teen out on the road, focus on your memory of that experience rather than all the things that might possibly go wrong. Start on quiet side streets or rural lanes and practice looking both ways during turns, stopping smoothly, and recognizing common road hazards like puddles, and potholes. Practice this for a while and then move on to avoiding animals and pedestrians.
3. Meeting Other Drivers
If you happen to live in a neighborhood with an empty four-lane highway nearby, terrific! This will be a perfect place to teach your teen some advanced driving maneuvers. Keep in mind that making the jump to arterial roads and limited-access highways can be scarier than making the jump to light speed aboard the Millennium Falcon. Sit down with your teen before the big day and talk about safety measures like following the speed limit, signaling and checking your blind spot before changing lanes, allowing plenty of following distance, and proper onramp etiquette. You might want to demonstrate merging while pointing out the various steps you take to ensure your safety.
4. New Privileges
You’d like to think that your teen wants the keys to your car to spare you the inconvenience of picking him up from the after-school study sessions at the library or late-night basketball practice, but let’s be honest: He wants to get away from home and hang out with his friends. Accept this and move on, but not before you set a few ground rules, like limiting night driving and passenger loads and setting hourly limits on car usage. Many states help out by making it illegal for anyone under 18 to drive with younger passengers other than family members and by imposing driving curfews of 10 pm: “It’s not me, it’s the law.”
Since you can’t forever forestall your teen’s first solo driving experience, you need to make sure it happens on terms you can live with. Methodically teach your kid good driving safety habits, logging dozens of hours behind the wheel with them, and have regular conversations about driving to monitor their progress. The more practice they have behind the wheel, the safer they’ll be and the saner you’ll be. At least for a while.
Vincent Smith lives and writes in London. He writes for www.carinsurance.org.uk where you can find information on car insurance including rates for young drivers.