Helping Teens Learn to Drive

Seatbelts are buckled, mirrors are adjusted, and the engine is purring. As your car backs slowly down the driveway you can’t help but look into the side mirror to make sure the tires aren’t on the lawn. You start down the street, white knuckles firmly clamped around the door handle and feet bearing down on imaginary brakes.

It’s your son’s first time behind the wheel and you’re riding shotgun — who knows which one of you is more nervous?

Learning to drive can be nerve-wracking for teens and parents. It’s likely to be your first experience putting your safety and auto investment in your teen’s hands. And since you know all the risks of the road, this can be pretty scary. But parents play an important role in helping teens practice their driving skills and develop confidence behind the wheel.

To help prepare for this critical time in your teen’s life, you might want to refresh your own driving knowledge by taking a defensive driving course (many of these can be completed online). You’d be surprised to see how much has changed since you learned to drive. You also can look into resources like the “Teaching Your Teens to Drive” handbook and DVD from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Practice, Practice, Practice

When it comes to driving, experience is an important teacher. The more time young drivers spend building a variety of skills in different road and weather conditions, the more calm and confident they will feel and the better they’ll be able to react to challenging situations.

Before each practice session, plan the specific skills you want to go over. If possible, make your lessons coincide with what your teen is learning in driver’s education at school. Consider your teen’s temperament — and your own. If the lessons are too long, nerves might get frayed and it may be difficult to stay calm.

 An empty parking lot is an ideal place for teens to:
  • practice simple car control skills like turning and braking
  • get a feel for how the car handles
  • learn the location of some of the basic controls, like windshield wipers, defroster, and lights
  • get a feel for how anti-lock brakes work in wet or slick conditions

After practicing the basics of moving in drive and reverse, try to work on these skills on quiet back roads, where there’s little traffic:

  • practicing an aggressive visual search (looking for potential road hazards)
  • slowing down around curves
  • coming to a full stop at a stop sign
  • understanding the rules of a four-way stop
  • keeping a safe following distance
  • making a left turn on a two-way road
  • keeping a constant speed when going uphill
  • recognizing and understanding street signs
  • navigating around pedestrians, animals, bikers, and runners
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