With graduation season upon us, we started thinking about all the milestones in a young person’s life. And learning to drive is certainly among the biggest.
If you’re a parent, letting your teenager get behind the wheel can be a scary thought. Maybe you’ve seen them put their video game driving skills to the test in Need for Speed and you’ve walked away horrified, wondering, Is that how my kid is going to drive the family car?
So we’re here to help you collect your thoughts and get ready to teach. Now, keys in the ignition … hands at 9 and 3 (it’s actually safer than 10 and 2) … let’s get started.
1. Find a safe place to practice
Assuming your teen has already gotten a drivers permit, the first step in helping them learn to drive is to pick a practice spot. Start off somewhere safe, like an open parking lot or an empty stretch of road with few or no other cars around.
One of the most important things you can do for your beginning driver in these initial stages is to remain calm. I know, I know, easier said than done. But if you can’t keep your cool in a parking lot, you’re going to be a basket case on the highway.
Practice everything you can in this safe zone — changing gears, accelerating, braking, turning, signaling, and parking. If you have the space, set up a mini-circuit with improvised stop signs. Make sure the driver-in-training has a good grasp of where the car is relative to its surroundings and is paying attention.
The more practice your teenager gets when they learn to drive, the safer they’ll be (and the safer you’ll feel) around other cars.
Note: if you don’t normally ride as a passenger, TeenDriving.com suggests getting used to it first. Being a passenger can be extremely disorienting otherwise.
2. Get ready to hit the open road
At some point, you’ll have to let your new driver experience the open road. We’re not talking about the highway (yet!) — just a nice little spin around the block. If you live in a busy area with blind turns and big streets, find a quieter block to drive around.
Then, you can start easing your teen into longer routes and busier areas, as well as more challenging situations, like driving at night and in the rain. Gauge their developing skill level and pick the route accordingly.
Since this is probably the first time they’ll be driving around moving vehicles, traffic signs, and signals, this is where the real test of their abilities will take place. Always have them check the speed limit, keep a safe following distance, use their mirrors, look both ways (twice), and check their own speed.
3. Help them learn to drive on the highway
When you’re confident your kid can drive in traffic, the next step is to tackle the challenges of highway driving.
Take it slow at first. Start with merging into the closest lane and then getting off at the next exit. This is probably going to be the scariest step for both of you, so it’s even more important to keep your cool here.
When they’re ready to change lanes, using the acronym “SMOG” can help them remember the steps they should take: make sure they signal, check their mirrors, and look over their shoulder before they go. (Don’t you love acronyms?)
4. Don’t panic
Teaching your teen to drive is pretty straightforward, really. Just make sure you’re calm, thorough, and above all, safe. Take it slow, don’t have a heart attack, and everything will be fine. They might drive like maniacs on their Xbox, but that doesn’t mean it’ll translate to the road.