How to Teach Your Child How to Drive

Be Compassionate

If you’re teaching someone how to drive, it’s important to have compassion for what is likely an anxious and potentially very stressful experience for them. Teen drivers will likely require an instructor to exhibit more patience to help them avoid distractions that can be caused by nervousness.

When teaching adults that are learning to drive for the first time, it is also important to show compassion and understanding for their situation. While lots of people delay learning to drive for simple reasons (like growing up without a car), many also do so because they had a difficult experience, like an accident. “Often, if someone is learning to drive as an adult, they’ve gotten it in their heads that it’s scary and dangerous,” says Primack. The right approach can convince them it doesn’t have to be, he insists. “Address [the fear] openly first, then set them up with steps to get them comfortable and more likely to have a good, safe experience.” Also, acknowledge that your friend may feel some embarrassment about not having mastered what some consider a “basic” life skill; assure them that it’s increasingly common not to learn as a teen and that learning is possible at any age.

The 5 Stages of Learning to Drive

The following five stages of driver's education will help you figure out how to best help your teen develop good driving skills.

Stage 1: Learning About Your Vehicle

This stage involves a general orientation about how the vehicle works and what the driver needs to know about the car. Assign reading the manual as well as hands-on demonstrations. At the end of the stage, your teen should know how to:

  • Change a flat tire
  • Fasten seat belts
  • Fuel the vehicle, check the oil, and inflate the tires
  • React appropriately in case of an accident
  • Start and stop the engine
  • Turn on and off headlights and parking (or running) lights
  • Turn on and off and to adjust windshield wipers
  • Understand what the various lights on the dashboard mean

In each stage, your teen should be proficient at the skills being taught before moving on to the next stage. Each stage will likely take several behind-the-wheel experiences for your teen. Don't try to move too fast.

Stage 2: The Basic Skills

In this stage, the teen driver needs to learn how to maneuver the vehicle and make it do what the driver wants. Most of these skills can be learned in an empty parking lot. At the end of this stage, your teen should be able to:

  • Back the car safely and straight
  • Make safe turns, both left and right, including signaling
  • Shift gears if using a manual transmission
  • Show awareness of his or her surroundings
  • Stop the car smoothly

Stage 3: Interacting With Other Drivers and Distractions

In this stage, your teen will be learning how to operate a vehicle safely with other drivers, parked cars, pedestrians, etc. in their environment. Most of these skills will require beginning on a residential street until comfortable and confident, then moving to a multilane street later during the stage.

At the end of this stage, your teen should be able to:

  • Drive courteously
  • Maintain a "safe cushion" around the vehicle when in traffic
  • Make a smooth and safe lane change
  • Navigate safely through an intersection, including those with signals, four-way stops, two-way stops, and uncontrolled intersections
  • Operate within posted speed limits and obeying traffic signs
  • Safely cross railroad tracks
  • Use mirrors and check blind spots

Stage 4: Parking and Other Turns

Driving is one thing, but parking can be quite another. There are probably more teen accidents associated with getting in and out of parking spots than from any other cause. Once again, an empty parking lot and a residential street are good places to learn this skill set.

At the end of this stage, your teen should be able to:

  • Make a safe three-point turn
  • Make a safe U-turn
  • Park safely on a hill—facing uphill and facing downhill
  • Safely parallel park
  • Safely pull into and out of a 90-degree parking space
  • Safely pull into and out of a diagonal parking space

Stage 5: Advanced Skills

The skills in this stage are essential, but they are advanced and rely on proficiency in other skills learned in the first four stages. Don't try to start on Stage 5 until you feel comfortable that your teen has the other skills well under control. At the end of stage 5, your teen should be able to:

  • Drive safely at night
  • Drive safely in ice, snow, and wet weather
  • Drive safely on the freeway, including merging, lane changes, and maintaining safe distances from other vehicles

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2) Plan your route

There is a saying that goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This especially rings true when teaching teenagers how to drive. Some roads just are not suitable for student drivers, and some drivers will not be forgiving toward novice drivers.

More importantly, choosing a practice route that is way beyond your child’s comfort range makes it challenging to assess their performance. Is the mistake a result of the difficult road conditions, your vague instructions, or because your child still lacks skill and needs more practice?

Remember that undue stress diminishes your child’s confidence and perhaps even their overall enthusiasm toward learning how to drive.

Things You’ll Need

  • A Car
  • A Kid with a Learner’s Permit
  • An Empty Parking Lot
  • You and Your Driver’s License
  • Appropriate Identification
  • Access to local traffic laws

How do I find a driving instructor for my child?

Your child’s driving instructor will be their most invaluable resource when learning to drive so it’s important to pick the right one. You and your child should work together to find the perfect instructor for them. Here are some things you should think about when choosing an Approved Driving Instructor: 

  • Ask around. If you were looking for a builder or landscaper, you would probably ask your friends and family for personal recommendations. The same applies to driving instructors. 
  • Find reviews. If you can’t get any recommendations from friends and family, have a look online from reviews or testimonials. Most driving instructors have a website or at least a Facebook page where you can find these. 
  • Is there a wait? A waiting list indicates that the driving instructor is in high demand. It’s a great indicator of how good they are. Although it might be convenient if the instructor is available the week you contact them (especially when you have an eager teen!), you might be better off waiting for the one you really want. 
  • Budget. Driving lessons are pretty expensive. Expect to pay at least £20 an hour or more. Some instructors offer deals if you book a block. It’s worth shopping around to see what offers there are. However, be wary of paying too little. If an instructor is offering lessons for considerably less than others in your area, there’s probably a reason why! 

Want to know more? We’ve got a whole guide dedicated to how to choose the best driving instructor.

Driver Training On the Road

  • Be sure to give your child advance warning on where to turn, or what you want them to do. Shouting, “Turn here!” at the last second denigrates the learning process and creates unneeded tension.
  • Keep talking to a minimum so as to not distract your child.
  • If a mistake is made don’t wait until the driving session ends to explain. Instead have your teen pull over and explain the error.
  • Don’t talk down or scold. Instruct in a calming tone. If you sense tension with your teen, end the driving session.
  • Be on the look out for potential hazards or dangers. Beginning drivers don’t have scanning techniques down, usually focusing only on what’s in front of them.
  • When starting, limit the first few driving sessions to 15 to 20 minutes. And then as your teen’s driving confidence grows, gradually increase the sessions to 30 and then 40 minutes.
  • Retract your instruction if it goes against what your teen was taught in drivers education. This fosters confusion. Put your ego aside while keeping in mind that your teen’s drivers ed teacher is a certified instructor, especially trained on how best to teach new drivers.

5) Practice a lot

Perhaps the single best way to ensure your teenager stays safe while driving is by giving them as much supervised driving practice as you can. After all, practice makes perfect.

During these practice sessions, make an effort to stay focused. Although it may seem second-nature, don’t bring up touchy subjects such as grades, homework, boyfriends/girlfriends, or anything else that may distract from the task at hand. Even if something goes awry, such as running a yellow light or forgetting to use the turn signal, remain calm and give feedback in a constructive and respectful tone at the appropriate time.  

As your child’s driving skills advance, allow them longer driving time in more complicated road situations and with different routes. Have them practice driving at different times of the day, including at night, and in various weather conditions. This gives them a feel for how the car behaves on wet or icy pavements.

Teaching your child to drive tips

There is plenty you can do to prepare for teaching your child to drive. We’ve got a whole article dedicated to how to teach someone to drive that we recommend you check out. Here’s some key things to remember: 

No dual controls

Remember that unlike a driving instructor, you won’t have any dual controls. That means you need to feel confident both in your instructing ability and your communication skills. Can you negotiate your son or daughter through a dangerous road situation?  

Refresher lesson

If the answer to the above question is no, it may be a good idea to have a refresher lesson with an instructor. It’s all too easy to pick up bad habits and you don’t want to pass them along to your son or daughter. Additionally, driving test standards have changed over the years, an instructor will make sure you’re up to date with the latest information. 

Speak to your child’s driving instructor

Most people learn through a combination of lessons with an instructor and private practice with parents. Have a chat with your son or daughter’s driving instructor before hitting the road. They’ll be able to give you tips on where they feel your child needs extra practice and will let you know if they’re ready for private practice.  

Remember that if this is the case, most of the learning will be done with their instructor. Treat their time with you as an opportunity to practice what they have already learned. Try not to contradict any of their instructor’s teachings. 

Make sure the car is roadworthy

It’s your responsibility to make sure the car you are supervising your child in is roadworthy. Use this as an opportunity to teach your son or daughter how to make the necessary vehicle checks, e.g. fluid levels and tyre tread. 

You might find our essential car maintenance checklist helpful as a refresher. It’s also important to make sure you’ve got L plates in the right place. Here’s a guide to where to put L plates.

Are you thinking about teaching your child to drive? Make sure they’re properly insured with learner driver insurance. Cover is available from as little as 2 hours, right up to 180 days. It’s super flexible meaning you can tailor your practice to your family’s schedule, and only pay for what you need! 

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