Teaching a Child to Drive? The 10 Fundamentals You Need to Establish First

Nov 14, 2019 by

10 Tips for Teaching Your Child to Drive

At some point, you may be responsible for teaching a teenager how to drive. This may be your son or daughter, or it may be some other important person in your life. In any case, this is likely going to be nerve wracking for you, even if you’re excited for the bonding experience.

If you want things to go smoothly, there are a handful of fundamentals you’ll need to establish first.

Fundamentals for Teaching Someone How to Drive

These fundamental philosophies and concepts are some of the most important to establish first:

  1. Safety comes first. Safety has to be your top priority, from the first driving lesson you take together to the trips they’ll take late in their adulthood. Car accidents are notoriously common, and can easily result in death. Make sure your first few lessons are in a completely isolated, controlled environment, like an empty parking lot or an open field. It’s also important to teach basic safety habits, like always wearing a seatbelt, before you even get to the driving portion.
  2. You don’t need to do everything at once. Many teenagers are overeager to learn how to drive. They’ll want to take their car on the main roads as soon as possible, and rush through the learning process. However, it’s better to establish that it’s perfectly okay—and in fact, much better—to learn things one at a time. Most kids do better starting with the basics in a parking lot, improving their skills across multiple short sessions, then gradually working their way to a full drive.
  3. Relaxed muscles respond faster than tense ones. New drivers sometimes grip the wheel hard and tense their body in a hyper-focused state. While it’s certainly not a bad thing to take driving seriously and remain on alert, they should know that relaxed muscles are capable of responding to action faster than tense ones. Create a calming atmosphere, and guide your teenager in keeping their muscles relaxed while driving.
  4. Experience correlates with ability. Teen drivers are inherently more likely to be involved in car accidents, and for one main reason: they lack experience. Driving is a skill like any other; the more time you spend doing it, the better you’re going to be. Make sure your teen driver knows this and accepts this. They need to know their skills will be dull to start, but will keep getting better as long as they keep practicing.
  5. Mistakes are going to happen. Nobody’s perfect, especially when they’re learning something for the first time. Be prepared for your teen to make a mistake while driving for the first few times, and let them know that it’s okay. The recovery and post-mistake learning will be much smoother in a tolerant environment.
  6. Weather changes everything. It’s practically impossible to teach someone to drive under all conditions simultaneously. If they’re used to sunny, dry weather, they may be blindsided by a new snowfall or heavily rainy conditions. Make sure they understand the differences, at minimum.
  7. Other drivers are unpredictable. No matter how safe or skilled you are, other drivers are still unpredictable. Make sure your teen expects other drivers to operate erratically, and adjusts their own driving habits accordingly.
  8. Other cars will drive differently. If your teen is going to learn on multiple different cars, or drive many different cars in the future, make sure they’re prepared for subtle differences in feel. Not every car will have the same acceleration or braking power, for example. It’s good to test these out before taking a new car on the road.
  9. Distracted driving is universally dangerous. Too many young people (and let’s face it, people of all ages) underestimate the dangers of distracted driving. They’ve heard that texting or using a smartphone while driving will significantly increase their chances of being involved in a collision, but it’s common to think that this rule applies to everyone else; in other words, they believe they are the lone exception, and someone who can multitask successfully despite all the contrary evidence. Make sure they take distracted driving seriously, and commit to not using a phone while driving. And set a good example while you’re at it.
  10. Reactions have to be kept in check. In a dangerous situation, fast reactions can save your life, but hasty or ill-timed reactions could kill you. Overcorrection is a leading cause of accidents; people panic and steer too quickly in a new direction, or brake so hard they lose control of the vehicle. Teach your child to keep their reactions as controlled as possible.

Mastering the Basics

Once you establish these foundational skills and points of knowledge, you’ll be ready to work on things like acceleration, braking, and if you’re working with a manual car, shifting. These skills will take time to develop, even if they seem somewhat intuitive. Be patient as you guide this teenager through the basics, and steer them toward a safe, promising future as a driver.

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