Celebrating your teenager coming of age to learn to drive can arouse numerous emotions. Joy. Fear. Worry. As I tell my teenagers, the car can be a deadly weapon – a weapon of mass destruction.
Learning to drive begins before your teenager gets their fingers on their Learner’s permit. It started from a young age as they watched what you do in the driver’s seat.
Do what I do, not what I say!
Hubby and I have a terrible practice of buckling our seat belts up as we take off up the road. Illegal. Now that we have two teenage drivers in the house, I am so aware of our foibles in this department.
Before they get their learner’s permit and can hop in the driver’s seat:
- Explain the different buttons, dials, parts of the dashboard and pedals.
- Give them a tour under the hood, explaining the different parts of the motor and what makes the car tick. If they understand the mechanics behind driving, it will hopefully help them understand the process.
- Decide who will teach your teen to drive. Do you feel comfortable teaching them? Would you prefer they get lessons at the beginning? Do you have the patience and the personality under pressure to teach them?
- Buy them the ‘L’ plates in preparation.
- In Australia, you must pass a theory test before you get your Learner’s permit. It is cheaper and quicker to do it online. The online process also lets you have multiple attempts to pass the test. You then book an appointment at your local Driving Dept where you get photo ID and the permit.
- As the parent, avail yourself of the online driving book/resources from your state department so that you are up to date with the latest driving rules. Road rules change over time; we can become ‘slack’ with the little things or lose awareness of subtleties.
- Decide whether your teenager will drive an automatic or manual vehicle. If you choose automatic, they are allowed to drive a manual car within two years of having a provisional licence. With our teens, we found it was far easier to begin in an automatic car, as they have far fewer things they need to concentrate on.
- Let your teen take the initiative and get their Learner’s Permit when they are ready, not when you think they should. Maturity, responsibility, anxiety, ability to think quickly and handle pressure all affect how they feel and can affect their concentration.
- Check your car insurance and whether your teen is covered.
- Talk them through your driving decisions so they can see why you are changing lanes, slowing down, etc.
- Buy an adjustable suction-based interior mirror to angle for yourself so you can also see through the back window. Plus, a set of small blind spot round mirrors to stick on your side mirrors widens their view and assists significantly with parking.
- Discuss in advance the ground rules of driving. A basic rule might be that when you say to stop the car, your child needs to stop immediately and ask questions later.
Learning to drive is more than just passing the test, it’s about making wise decisions.
When they get their Learner’s permit:
- Celebrate the achievement and the beginning of learning to drive.
- You can access one 45-minute free driving lesson in Australia through an approved learn-to-drive provider. (keys2drive.com.au) You can choose when you use this offer, although it may soon be phased out, so get in quick. With both our teenagers, we felt to wait until they had at least ten to twenty hours of driving under their belt so that the instructor could offer valuable advice that wasn’t ‘wasted’ on ‘how to start the car’.
- Friends have booked their sons immediately into a learn-to-drive course, including defensive driving, so they have accurate instruction from the beginning.
- Start in an empty car park.
- Set aside 30-60 minutes daily for the first few weeks. We discovered if there was too long a gap between each drive, they forgot several vital steps in driving. Thirty minutes is tiring for your teen as the concentration required is enormous to begin with, so even 15-20 minutes to start with is a great idea.
- Let your teen set the pace. Encourage them to let you know when they need to finish the drive because of tiring from the intense concentration.
- Practice starting and stopping to begin with. Take it slowly and concentrate on one aspect at a time.
- Start in daylight outside of peak driving time in dry weather. When our son got his Learner’s permit, I took him for three short drives around the local football ground. It was Christmas time, and we live on the Mornington Peninsula, which is extremely busy over Christmas and summer. The following week, my husband Gary took him for an extended drive down the coastal road and up Arthurs Seat – all extremely narrow, windy, and busy. I was flabbergasted. My husband was also the one who took them on the freeway with only ten hours of driving. I wasn’t ready to be the instructor on busy roads at that stage, but hubby was fine.
- Don’t rush your teen or put pressure on them. For the first few months with one of our teens, they didn’t want to cross traffic to turn right into our street, so they would drive through a set of traffic lights and past a busy Woolworths carpark entrance and drive to the beach car park to do a lap and come home. It made little sense to Gary and me, but our teen felt safe and in control.
- Give clear, calm instructions as you drive:
- Staying calm sets an atmosphere. Driving is stressful. The last thing your teenage driver needs is a stressful parent applying more pressure as they are trying to concentrate.
- Instead of saying, ‘Turn, turn!’ or ‘You’re going too fast’, try statements like, ‘Please turn left the first street after the traffic lights’, and ‘Drop your speed by 20km/h’.
- Use the word ‘right’ when giving directions and another word for when they do something correctly.
- Give them plenty of time to respond and include the reason, eg ‘Slow down as we are approaching a set of lights’.
- Both my teenagers loved being given plenty of notice to turn so they could easily get into the correct lane.
- Teenagers hate being told or nagged. Once they feel confident and increase their speed, if they are going too fast, ask them what the speed limit is instead of telling them to slow down. Form instructions by asking questions eg ‘What’s the speed limit here?’, ‘Is it safe to move away from the kerb? What’s in your mirror?
- Your role as the parent is to be the coach. Remember to give praise.
- The number of times you drive with your teen is more important than the amount of time in each session. To get your provisional licence in Victoria, you must drive over 120 hours with at least 20 hours of night-time driving. The driving app will not let you log a drive longer than 2 hours at a time – extremely sensible as it recognises the effort and concentration it takes. Learners are also not allowed to tow.
- Emergency responses – remember to train them in what to do in an emergency – how to change a tyre, what to do if involved in an accident, etc
- Gradually expose them to various weather and road conditions and vary your route. Driving at night, during peak hour, through fog, hail and extreme wind, dirt roads, windy narrow roads, on tram tracks, through the city, etc. It is far better for your teen to experience these driving conditions with you than on their own later.
- Drive for life not to pass their driver’s licence. Go through McDonalds/fast food drive-thru, drive into underground car parks, and drive to places they are likely to frequent.
- If you decide to teach your teenager in a manual car, initially keep the window down so your teen can hear the engine rev.
- If your teenager has had no driving lessons from a qualified instructor, it is a great idea to have one a couple of months before going for their driving test. It’s a great way to brush up on a few skills. With my daughter, the instructor taught her a fantastic method to reverse park easily, something we had found hard to teach.
- Each teenager is different. What works for one may not necessarily work for other teenagers. Plus, your teenagers each have different personalities and levels of confidence. This impacts on how you teach them to learn to drive.
We have a policy of no driving when exhausted. Our son doesn’t drive after Air Force Cadets as he is too emotionally and intellectually tired. I will never forget our daughter driving on an extremely busy Sunday afternoon down the freeway. It was hailing and extreme weather, and we were running late to pick my son up from an Air Force Cadets camp. We were about halfway there, and my daughter pulled over to allow me to drive – she had decided it was too stressful. A sensible decision.
We also have a policy of our learner driver not driving whilst we have non-family members in the car.
Our daughter clocked up over 350 hours before getting her licence, and our son has clocked up over 190 hours in his first year. You can tell the difference after 100 hours, 200 hours, and 300 hours of driving. The more hours they spend learning to drive in various conditions definitely helps their skill and decision-making whilst driving.
Common causes of road crashes among young drivers are inexperience, speed, alcohol, drugs, distraction eg mobile phone, and fatigue. Our role in teaching them to drive is to help eliminate and reduce these causes.
Enjoy this stage of your children’s development. Remember, your relationship with your teenager is what is important.