Anyone who’s ever had to teach someone else to drive knows that it can be an exceedingly time consuming and stressful process. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or stressful, however. In fact, it could easily be fun. While driver’s education can be a great resource for teaching a teen the fundamentals of driving, driving is best learned through practice, which very few driver’s ed classes can offer, especially to a large group of kids. This leaves the parents with the responsibility. If you need to teach your teenager to drive, here are some tips to make this process easier:
1. Get the proper hand positions. As your teen learns to drive, he will probably naturally find the most comfortable and maneuverable places for his hands on the wheel. Until he start to build his own habits, encourage him to put his hands at nine and three (yes, nine and three, not ten and two). This is the ideal spot for the best control over the vehicle.
2. Relax those arms. Anxiety and stress are the enemy of learning and the enemy of safe driving. Also, having tensed shoulders, arms, and hands are less likely to react well to danger or even just to clearly communicate what the driver wants to do to the wheel in front of him. Help your teen relax and make sure that his arms are relaxed to.
3. Encourage focused driving. The pull of the smartphone can be too much for some teenagers. For those that can’t seem to keep their hands off of their cellphones while driving, it might be best to leave the phone at home while learning how to drive. Seriously, texting and talking on the phone while driving are two of the worst habits that a teen can pick up. Don’t just discourage these bad habits—encourage the good ones.
4. Try to keep the mood in the car positive. One of the most difficult things about learning to drive a manual is how tense I could feel my father getting in the passenger’s seat. Every time I would stall out, he would grip the door handle and grit his teeth. I eventually gave up even trying to learn to drive that car and had to wait until college to learn in a friend’s car who wasn’t nearly so anxious. Teens respond well to positive reinforcement and very negatively to scolding, so maybe leave the scolding at home.
5. Praise him when he does well. It can be easy to just say nothing when he’s doing a good job and to only provide correction. Unless the correction is absolutely necessary (he consistently fails to notice that he is riding the center line, for example), stick just to praising him when he does well. Everyone makes mistakes—it’s important not to make a big deal out of them while he’s learning or he’ll lose his enthusiasm for learning.
6. Teach him what a car in crisis feels like. He will learn perfectly well on his own how a car behaves when it is being driven well. He won’t learn, however, what to do in an emergency, especially if he doesn’t know whether or not he is actually in an emergency. If he is learning to drive in the summer, it might be impossible to show him what it feels like to slide on the ice, but you can show him what to do when his car is skidding across asphalt or how the car reacts to slamming on the brakes.
7. Teach him when he should hit an animal and when he should swerve. It’s almost always a better idea to hit an animal that’s run out in the road than to jerk the wheel and try to swerve around it. In the moment, you might not realize that there is a car coming from the other direction or that there are trees right off the side of the road. It’s not pleasant to hit an animal, but it’s better than endangering your life and the life of others in your car or on the road just to save the life of a rabbit or a deer.
8. If possible, teach him to drive a stick. While not exactly necessary anymore, especially since even manual transmissions are now easier than ever to drive, it could still be valuable to teach your teen what it feels like to drive a stick. Once he’s built the muscle memory, it will be easier for him to drive a manual if there is ever an emergency and that’s his only choice.
9. Encourage him to speed up. Most new drivers are very cautious when it comes to high speeds (which may be anything over twenty miles an hour). They’ve likely never piloted a machine that can go that fast. Simply driving around a parking lot going fifteen miles an hour isn’t going to teach him very much about how to behave on a road. At some point, he will have to get out of the parking lot, drive on a residential road, and then even drive on a highway. If there are rural roads around you with high speed limits and little traffic, these are great places to start.
10. Give directions well before they are needed. This is something my parents are guilty of—they won’t tell you that you need to turn right until you are already at a stoplight, in a left-hand lane. This can be nerve-wracking for a teenager who is learning to drive (and any adult). Give directions in plenty of time for your teen to actually follow them.