Teaching Teens to Drive: What You Didn't Learn at 16

Car accidents are still the primary cause of death among teens in the U.S., so it’s very important to ensure that you teach your teen skills for avoiding accidents as well as defensive driving techniques. If it’s your first time going through this stressful parenting rite, or even if you’ve taught one of your kids to drive before, you’ll find our list of teaching tips helpful.

Let your child know what to expect. Before getting on the road give your teen an overview. Tell them where they’ll be driving and what they’ll be practicing (i.e., getting on and off the freeway during rush hour or practicing turn-signal use in a quiet residential area).

Avoid negative, non-specific criticism. Telling your child that they’re going to get you a ticket isn’t helpful. Instead, gently remind them to check for speed limits and to be mindful of stop signs.

Now see our list below. While this isn’t an all-inclusive guide, it includes some basic and not-so-common practices that parents should follow when teaching their teenagers to drive. To get started, find a big deserted parking lot and hit these key points:

  • Put smartphones away
  • Always buckle up
  • Check mirror and seat positions
  • Go over location of controls
  • Hands should be at 3 and 9 o’clock for max rotation - 10 and 2 no longer applies
  • Have your teen take the car up to about 30 mph, then slam the brakes to the floor so they can experience a vehicle’s stopping power and the pulsing feel of anti-lock brakes
  • Have your teen take the car up to speed, then turn abruptly without applying the brakes, so they can experience what it feels like to oversteer and avoid doing this on actual roads
  • If you have cones, set them out and have your teen practice driving around them in different patterns
  • Also have your teen practice lining up in the parking spots
  • Repetition is key, so repeat, repeat, repeat!
  • If it’s raining out, don’t be afraid to hit the road. In fact, you should have your child practice driving in rain and snow if possible.

When your child graduates to driving on an actual street, go over these basics with them:

  • Check mirrors and look over shoulder before entering traffic
  • Engage the proper signal when entering traffic
  • When backing up, check mirrors and look over both shoulders
  • Always signal and check mirrors when changing lanes
  • Check for speed limits or maintain about the same pace as traffic flow, not too slow or too fast compared to others
  • Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel to stay in control, don’t let the wheel “slide” through your hands
  • Slow down and engage appropriate signal when turning
  • If going right, turn into correct designated lane
  • When turning left, pull out just beyond crosswalk lines to alert others that you plan to turn, unless there is a red arrow in which case you may not turn until it changes to green
  • Tell your child well in advance when you’re going to want them to turn, not at the last minute
  • Teach your teen to scan the road
  • Tell your child that if an animal ever runs into their path, not to jerk the wheel - unfortunately hitting the animal is the best way to avoid injury to the driver
  • Tell your teen to always stop behind crosswalk lines, even if they plan to turn - they should stop at the line first, then slowly pull forward while keeping an eye out for pedestrians and cars
  • No rolling stops

Don’t assume that what’s obvious to you is obvious to your teen. Through more challenging driving situations, it’s a good idea to give your teen specific guidance, since they don’t have the experience to make the same judgments as veteran drivers. Also remember to stay calm, do not criticize small errors and give positive reinforcement when they do well, which is the best way to make sure good driving habits stick - “Great job checking your mirrors,” “You’ve improved a lot with your signaling. Keep it up,” and so on.

You’ll also want to teach your teen to handle driving situations that are potentially more hazardous than others. President of the National Safety Council, Deborah Hersman, told the Wall Street Journal, “Most people don’t get killed parallel parking. The most important things parents can teach teens are how to develop hazard recognition and judgment - making the left turns into oncoming traffic, how to merge on and off highways at high speed.”

Tags: driving tips