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The Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching Teen Drivers

This teenage rite of passage strikes fear into the hearts of many parents, and can be both exciting, stressful, and confusing for parent and teenager alike.

To ensure your eager teenager is on track to a lifetime of safe driving, here are some Do’s and Don’ts to help you navigate the bumpy road of teaching teen drivers.

DO start simple.

You can’t run before you walk! It should go without saying that, for a first lesson, you can’t sit your teenager behind the wheel on a busy street, and expect her to know what she’s doing. Start with the easiest environment possible – like an empty parking lot – and let your teenager master the basics.

Then, and only then, should she progress to more and more difficult streets. Your driving environments hierarchy could look something like this:

  1. Parking lot
  2. Residential road
  3. Busy street (with pedestrians, traffic lights)
  4. Commercial road
  5. Street with more than two lanes
  6. Highway
  7. Country road

It’s also wise to give your teen some practice driving at night, and in inclement weather, like rain or snow – it’s important for your new driver to know what each type of weather feels like from the driver’s seat, so she can properly prepare herself to face them in the future.

DON’T be a backseat driver.

There’s a fine line between guiding your teenager from the passenger seat, and being a backseat driver.

While you should tell your teenager what he is doing right or wrong, make sure to phrase all criticism in a way that’s constructive, not negative. Avoid sweeping statements like “you never listen to me,” or comments that attack his character, like “you’re too easily distracted.”

Instead, offer non-judgmental critique and encouragement – for example, instead of proclaiming that he’ll get a speeding ticket, calmly ask him “what’s the speed limit again?”

It’s important for you to stay calm while teaching your teen to drive – this will ensure that he stays calm in turn, and absorbs the wisdom you’re offering.

DO be a good role model.

While Driver’s Ed. is an invaluable resource, teenage drivers are still influenced greatly by a parent or guardian’s driving habits, behaviours, and skills.

Be a role model driver for your teen – if you want her to follow your safe driving advice, you have to follow it yourself. If you’re braking too hard, for example, or following too closely, your impressionable teen may very well pick up on the bad habit.

DON’T allow for distractions.

No matter how badly your teenager wants to text his friend back, or check his Facebook, make behind-the-wheel distractions a non-negotiable – it’s one of the most important road safety lessons you can teach him.

According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers that text behind the wheel are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident than drivers who are not distracted. The teenage obsession with smartphones and texting places teen drivers at elevated risk – teach your teen to avoid distracted driving at all times.

DO teach them a variety of driving skills.

When it comes to teaching their teens to drive, parents sometimes focus too heavily on a few specific skills, like parallel parking.

If you’re simply drilling your teen on the techniques that gave you the most trouble when you were younger, you’re missing out on providing them with the scope of learning that they require.

“The most important things parents can teach teens are how to develop hazard recognition and judgment,” says Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council. This includes making a left turn into oncoming traffic, merging on and off a highway at high speeds, and emergency maneuvers like evasive braking.

Make sure to teach your teen a variety of driving skills and maneuvers, so that they’re ready to face any and all potential driving situations. What’s more, guide them through the basics of defensive driving – besides the benefit of staying safe, driving defensively can also help cut down your insurance premium, a welcome relief for parents whose premiums have skyrocketed due to their teenage driver.

DON’T assume they know the “obvious.”

“The obvious isn’t obvious to a 16-year-old,” said Veteran Auto Writer Joann Muller in a piece for Forbes Magazine, in which she detailed her experiences teaching her teen to drive.

“I realized in one terrifying instant that I shouldn’t assume she has the common sense and skill of more experienced drivers,” explained Muller. Although she and her teenage daughter (and their 2009 Chrysler minivan) escaped the situation unharmed, it’s not a good idea to simply assume your teen will know what you deem obvious.

Guide your teen through various scenarios – like tricky merging, or lane-changing – before you get behind the wheel, so that neither of you are caught off guard when an “obvious” maneuver isn’t so obvious.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching Teen Drivers

It’s one of the most nerve-racking times in a parent or guardian’s life – teaching a teen to drive.