Once your teen has their permit, it’s time to actually get out on the road with them and teach them how to drive. Here are some tips to guide you in your driving instruction:

Teaching your teen how to drive

  1. Start with the mechanics of working the car

Experienced drivers tend to forget just how much work and concentration is involved in things we consider second nature. From working the clutch to stopping and starting and remembering turn signals, what experienced drivers do automatically needs to be consciously thought about by teens. It will make for a stressful first experience if you start your teen in traffic right away and they stall the car in the middle of an intersection while trying to work the clutch. So before you even get out on the road, drive your teen to a vacant area – such as an empty parking lot or abandoned subdivision – and have them practice the very basics:

  • Putting the car into gear
  • Working the clutch
  • Locating and turning on turn signals, hazard signals
  • Engaging the parking brake
  • Turning the car on and off
  • Getting a feel for how responsive the gas and brake pedals are, and how firmly each needs to be pushed
  • Turning the wheel hand over hand

Once they can perform these tasks capably on command, they are ready to be taken out on the road.

  1. Begin slow & easy

When first starting out, be sure to take them driving during times when traffic is light, and on roads they are familiar with that have as few challenges as possible. Traffic circles and highway merges in particular should be saved for times when traffic is light.

  1. Focus on the common causes of crashes

Remember the main reasons that kids crash: Speed, spacing, handling, hazards, and distractions. Focus on these areas in particular throughout your instruction:

Space

Help her judge how much space she needs by counting from the car in front. After it passes an object, you should be able to count to three using the one one-thousand count. Most teens have a tendency to follow so closely they can only count to one.

Speed

Not all speeding is intentional. Speed has a way of creeping up on a driver, so do more than just tell him to slow down. Ask him periodically what the speed limit is on the road he’s on. Ask him to check the speedometer.

Handling

Talk about reducing speed around curves, ask them if they feel a difference in the way the tires feel, and so on. Merging onto the interstate and navigating sharp curves are common causes of deadly teen accidents. Practice interstate mergers over and over again during a time when traffic is low. As you’re doing so, create imaginary cars so they can practice speeding up or slowing down to merge. Take them out on curved roadways so that they can get experience with depth-perception involving curves and learn safe speeds for handling them. Have them practice speeding up on a straight stretch and then slowing down before a curve so that it becomes a habit to slow down for any curves.

Hazards

Point out potentially safety hazards before they come to fruition: talk about how that driver up ahead may pull out in front of them, how that person on the cell phone may not be paying attention, and other safety hazards you see.

Tell them about all the near-accidents you’ve experienced on the road as you pull up to similar geography on the road. Pointing out these things when it comes to others can help them avoid the same mistakes.

Distractions

When a child is first learning to drive, there’s a lot to take in. She’ll get distracted and forget things. Point out how other types of distractions have the same effect even on experienced drivers. Distractions behind the wheel essentially make everyone a novice driver. Point out how often other drivers take their eyes off the road and the mistakes they make when they do so.

Progress to more challenging tasks

As kids become more comfortable and familiar with the normal roadways, start to progress to more challenging routes. Roads with hills, curves, or strange traffic patterns need to be added. A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety using in-vehicle cameras installed during the permit phase found that teens were not getting driving experience in challenging situations, such as at night, in bad weather, in heavy traffic or on busy interstates. (Copeland, 10-19-2010) So as unappealing as it may sound to take your teen out for a Sunday stroll in the middle of a snowstorm, teens need this type of practice, too (on safe, less-challenging roads, of course).

“Too much focus on safety prevents kids from developing skills, while letting go too soon puts them in danger,” says Dale Wisely, Ph.D., a psychologist who operates the nonprofit site Parenting Teen Drivers. (Mahoney, 2009) The key is to find the right balance between safety and experiencing challenging situations, which they’ll surely face once out on their own.

Narrate what you see

Don’t just give them feedback about their own driving. Narrate what you see in the world around them. Point out that someone looks like they are ready to change lanes even though they aren’t signaling. Point out that you see brake lights a quarter-mile ahead. Without overwhelming them with too much information, narrate the different things you would take notice of if you were driving. After a while, ask them to do the same…narrating what they see and take notice of.

Know when to shut up

Though you should give them lots of feedback, it’s also important to know when to shut up. Talking itself can be a distraction, so limit it during times when they need their focus.

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