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How To Teach Your Teenager To Drive

Thursday, October 8, 2009

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How To Teach Your Teen To Drive:

Teaching your teenager to drive is not hard. You have to trust your teen and yourself. You also have to remain calm at all times. If you are calm, your teenager will be also. Get out there with your teen and drive! The more hours of experience he gets, the better driver he will be. It's that simple.

In this article, I use the pronouns “he” or “him” when I refer to teenage drivers. I do this only for convenience and to avoid confusion. If you need to teach your teenage girl to drive, just substitute “she” or “her” for “he” or “him”.

Step One:

Start out in a very large parking lot that is empty most of the time. In our location, the Civic Center/Fair Grounds is the perfect spot. Begin by having your teen drive around the perimeter of the parking lot at least three times. Have him go no more than 20 miles/hour. Get him used to steering the car and using the accelerator and brake pedal.

Then have him practice parking and backing out of one of the parking stalls for awhile. Then have him drive around the perimeter again, but this time, in the opposite direction. Then you can practice parallel parking.

Next, have your teen make left and right turns. Have him move up and down the large lot, telling him to turn at irregular intervals. Make sure he uses his turn signals. Emphasize both hands on the wheel, eyes straight ahead, and the old hand over hand turning style.

Also pretend there are stop lights and stop signs. Tell your teen exactly where they are and do this well ahead of time. Teach him the difference between four way stops and two way stops. Tell him how red and yellow lights differ. Also let him know how long yellow lights usually last and when he should slow down or go through a yellow light. After awhile, this will become a judgment call on his part.

Practice in the parking lot for the first two or three hours of driving time. Your teenager needs to familiarize himself with the car's controls and become confident in his ability to steer the car, use the reverse gear, accelerate, and slow the car down to a stop. Teach him also how to set the parking brake and use his seat belts.

Once you think your teen is ready for some traffic, it's time to take him on county or lightly trafficked country roads.

Step Two:

Find country or county roads that are lightly trafficked and take your teenager out there. Stop by the side of the road and change drivers.

Then have your teen drive up and down these roads. Try to locate an area that has at least four or five country roads in a row. Then have him go down one, make either a right or left turn, and go up another road. Talk about how he should accelerate slowly up a hill and look out for cars he may not be able to see. Conversely, let him know why he should slow down going down a hill, even if he sees no traffic coming.

On country or county roads, you shouldn't run into a lot of traffic. Where we live, we see mostly farming vehicles(tractors, etc) or trucks. Your teen will get his first taste of speed as you encourage him to go at least 50 miles per hour or a little faster than the posted speed limit. Have him work on applying the brake far enough in advance so that he can come to a smooth stop at an intersection. Make sure your teen signals for a right or left turn at least 30 feet before any junction.

Have him also practice looking for cross traffic at two way stops. Make sure he knows that he should accelerate coming out of a turn so he can leave an intersection as quickly as possible. Tell him not to worry about cars behind him; if you are on a two lane road, the car behind can usually pass safely, especially if the road is straight.

Practice with your teen at least five hours on these lightly trafficked county roads. When you feel he is ready, it's time for some in-town driving with normal traffic.

Step Three:

We live in a small very compact town. It's easy to get from one end to another in 15 minutes or so, even if you catch all the red lights. No matter what type of town you live in, now is the time for your teen to pick destinations and to drive to them.

Have him drive to your favorite grocery store. Once there, have him park. Then have him back up and find his way out of the lot. Next, have him drive to your usual gas station. He should learn how to fill the gas tank.

Next, have him drive to his school. If you drive him to school, have him drive there and change drivers as you drop him off. Be sure to pull completely off the road into the school parking lot before you change drivers. If you pick him up from school, he can also drive home.

Pick other nearby destinations, such as stores, church, dentist, shopping mall, restaurants, etc. If he doesn't know how to get to a place, try to give him the easiest way. Have him drive ANYWHERE you need to go.

The whole idea for this step is to give your teen his first taste of having to drive in traffic as well as dealing with stop lights. Try not to have your teen drive any more than half an hour at a time at this stage.

Once he has completed at least another five hours in average traffic, it's time to move on to harder things. By the way, any hour amounts I give in this article are minimal; you can have your teen drive more for each step if you think he needs the experience.

Step Four:

Depending on where you live, the weather can vary from day to day. Have your teen drive in the rain, while it's snowing, at dusk/dawn and when it is completely dark. Make sure he knows how to use his headlights. Show him how to turn on high beams and his fog lights and when/how to use them. Emphasize the prime importance of signaling for a turn in adverse conditions.

Work on changing lanes. For example, if you want your teen to make a right turn, suggest he get into the right hand lane. Make sure he uses his rear view mirror, the appropriate side mirror, and that he takes a quick peek over his shoulder before he makes the lane change.

Have him tell you what the speed limit is in a given area and work with him to stay close to that speed. Tell him that he should drive as fast as it is safe, not necessarily the speed limit. Suggest that he go a bit faster on a straight road with dry conditions and light traffic. Make sure he knows why he should drive a little slower than the speed limit in wet conditions, in the dark or at dusk/dawn, or in very heavy traffic.

By this time, your teen should be able to drive about one hour at a time.

Once he has another five hours or more under his belt, it's time to move on to more challenges.

Step Five:

Now is the time to start taking your teen through some traffic challenges. Be sure to mix these challenges with some easy traffic so he will stay confident in his driving ability.

Find construction zones and work with your teen on how to negotiate his way through these areas. Emphasize that he must move slowly. In our town, road construction seems to happen in the spring and summer months.

Also, have him drive in what you know are very heavily trafficked areas. Have him drive these during morning and evening “rush” hours, if possible. Also, try lunch time, usually between 11am and 1pm. Weekend days are good times too. The whole idea is to get him used to heavy and unpredictable traffic patterns.

See how he reacts to unexpected happenings. What does he do or say when someone cuts him off? How about when he gets behind someone going too slowly? What does he say or do? An important thing to tell him is to expect the unexpected, no matter what.

You have to remember that as long as you are in the car with him, your teen is going to react the way he knows you would approve. But he will drop his “mask” every now and then so you can get an idea of what he will do when he starts to drive alone.

Talk to your teen about remaining calm and give him your best ideas on what he should do when faced with a particular driving situation.

Step Six:

Now that your teenager has had at least 30 hours(or more) of experience driving within the city or county, it's now time to take him out on the freeway.

Depending on where you live, this may be no big deal. The closest large cities to us are San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas. I wouldn't want my worst enemy to drive in Las Vegas or Toronto(in Ontario, Canada). Those two cities have some of the worst traffic I've ever seen. Chicago is pretty bad too. Surprisingly, New York isn't too bad at all.

No matter where you live, your teen needs to get used to entering a freeway, exiting an expressway, learning how to pass a car or truck safely, staying in his lane, moving at a steady speed and so on. Where we live, you don't need the freeway unless you are going out of town. But if you live in Southern California or Phoenix or any large metropolitan area, you really do need experience using the freeway or you'd never be able to go anywhere.

Bottom line: if you live in a large city, you should concentrate at least 30 hours or more just on the freeway. Give your teen hints on how to avoid the worst traffic. Tell him easy ways to get to a certain destination and what times are best. He'll also figure out his own ways to deal with heavy traffic.


According to most driver education courses, your teen needs at least 50 hours of driving experience during the six months that he holds his learner's permit. Only then is he ready to take the driver's test to get his regular driver's license. I agree wholeheartedly, except I think 50 hours is a minimum. The more hours your teen spends behind the wheel, the better off he will be.

So get out there with him and drive around. There is no substitute for real experience. The more your teen practices, the better driver he will be.

Be sure to talk about alcohol abuse, drugs, and any other distractions while he is driving. Always stress the importance of keeping both eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel.

Let your teen know what can happen if he is pulled over for a DUI/DWI. Encourage him to stay away from alcohol and drugs. Tell him that if he goes to a party and has a few drinks or smokes marijuana, he should call you. Of course, you have to be willing to pick him up, no questions asked. If your spouse agrees, she/he can go with you and drive your teen's car home. Or you can go back the next day with your teen and he can drive his own car home. When he does call you, congratulate him on being mature enough to realize when he can't drive safely.

Also talk to your teen about using his cell phone while he drives. If he likes to text message or talk to people while he is driving, set up his car so that he can pair his cell phone with the car radio. Now he can talk to someone on his cell phone but can keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road. General Motors models can have this ability built in. I've also heard of an after market plug-in for other models. But this if for talking only, not texting. Tell your teen how dangerous it can be to text message while he is driving. Let him know that he should pull over to read and especially type a text message.

I've also told my son that he shouldn't eat or smoke while he drives. Luckily, he does not smoke and I hope he never does. I've also never seen him trying to eat something while he drives. I've heard of people who try to do three different things while they drive. One time my wife saw a woman putting on her make up and brushing her hair while she was driving at freeway speed!

Also, suggest that he drive only trusted friends around in his car. You should know these friends and their parents if possible. It is vital that the parents think the same way you do. Hopefully, your teen is not easily influenced by his peers.

Recommend to your teen that he should not drive when he is angry, has a lot on his mind, or is simply tired. Advise him that it's better to walk up and down for awhile to calm himself down. If he is tired or sleepy, let him know that he shouldn't drive at all. Here is another time he may call you or a friend.

After at least 50 hours of driving experience, you may feel that your teen is not emotionally mature enough to drive by himself. Let him know why you think that and what he needs to do to correct your impression. Also, if you don't feel he is skillful enough to drive on his own yet, have an independent driving instructor spend five or more hours with your teen. If he comes to the same conclusion, ask the driving expert what should be done.

I've seen “how to drive” DVD's that are produced by teens for teens. I'm giving one of these to my son for his 16th birthday. I can't wait to watch it with him. Just look online to find them.. These are great if you have a teen that doesn't read much or learns better with visual cues.

It is my opinion that you should encourage your son or daughter to be as independent of you as possible. If you know in your heart that your teen will be a good driver, let him drive! Don't hold him back because of your insecurities. Your teen has to grow up and must be able to function and navigate the world without you. Give him the tools to do so, he'll appreciate it later. Perhaps when he is teaching his own teenager to drive!

John Soares
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