Before Teaching Your Teenager to Drive
Growing up in a very rural and sparsely populated area, I had my first experience behind the wheel of a vehicle at a very early age. I can remember sitting on my grandpa's lap, working the steering wheel while he controlled the gas and brake, driving through the pasture to count the cattle and check for any compromised fencing. By the time I was in late elementary and early middle school, my older sister and I would take turns driving lunch to my grandpa and an older brother who were harvesting the fields during the summer. It was a wonderful experience and very helpful in the early honing of my driving skills.
Now, as a licensed driver of approximately 30 years, it's fair to say that I have had a lot of experience behind the wheel. And this past year, I've had the pleasure of donning the title "Driving Instructor" for my teenage son. Once he obtained his driving permit, our training began, and since he didn't have the early introduction to driving that I had, his training was going to be a little more in-depth than what I required at his age. Here are the very first steps I took in the teaching process:
The first step was to choose a location. Where I learned to drive in a rural area with little traffic and mostly dirt roads, my son had to learn how to drive in a very urban area with non-stop traffic and multiple lanes. My first mission, find somewhere he could drive that was away from traffic, but still offered some of the obstacles he would need to learn to navigate. We lucked out when we found an undeveloped area of our subdivision where the roads and signage were already in place, but no homes had been built; multiple blocks of a road to navigate, with absolutely no traffic.
If you don't have an undeveloped area available to you, you can also find a residential area that has a more rural feel, or one with minimal cars parked along the street. The area in this photo is one near a local golf and has a slower posted speed limit with limited traffic.
Did you learn to drive (or are you learning to drive) in a city or rural setting?
2. Car Safety
Before I handed my son the keys and climbed into the passenger seat, it was imperative that we go over car safety. He already knew the very basics; gas, brakes and steering wheel, and to always wear a seatbelt, but other things that I use on a daily basis, and apparently take for granted, were just as important.
- Mirrors. Adjusting the mirrors may seem like a hassle, but when it comes to navigating a freeway with six lanes, having your mirrors properly adjusted is crucial. Although many people focus on the rearview mirror, the position of the side mirrors is crucial to seeing around the car, something that many teens are never properly taught.
- Turn signals. The all-so-important feature of a car that is vastly underutilized on the road, and one of my biggest pet peeves as a driver to date. When to use them and why they're so important.
- Headlights. Although we were starting out his training driving only during the daylight hours, there would come a time when we would have to drive the required number of hours during the dark of night. Knowing where the headlight switch is, and knowing when it's OK to use the brights of the headlights and when they should be dimmed, is vital.
- Parking brake. Using a parking brake isn't always a common practice, and therefore is a topic that is frequently overlooked during driver training, especially if the trainer is a parent, like myself. Where we live, there really aren't any large hills where a parking brake is most commonly used. However, knowing when to use a parking brake, and the proper wheel direction for parking on hills, even small ones, could potentially save them from disaster later on.
- Windshield wipers. This was a biggie. The car he would be driving in has two levers on either side of the steering wheel, and to a beginning driver, they appear identical. Their functions, however, are very different. One is the under-utilized turn signal, and the other is the windshield wipers. Let's just say, for the first few outings, the windshield wipers were turned on at quite a few stop signs before muscle memory kicked in and it became automatic on which lever did what.
- Hazards. As with any other control on the vehicle's console, the location of the hazard button will vary by the make and model. Hopefully, your teen won't need to use the hazards for an emergency, but they do need to know where the hazard button is located. That being said, I have taught my teen that any time the car is pulled over to the side of the road, even if it's just to take a phone call, it's best to turn the hazard lights on, so other drivers know that your vehicle is stopped. I've had many instances where I was stopped at a school bus stop, waiting for my child to be dropped off and other cars would stop in the road behind me, waiting for me to drive through the nearby stop sign. Having the hazard lights activated, lets them know that your car is not in the lane of traffic and it's ok to maneuver around you.
3. Starting the Car
I can remember when my older brother was learning to drive, because the vehicle he learned to drive in was an old farm pickup, pumping the gas and holding the key in the on position was a must to get the old thing running. Then when he started driving a newer car with fuel injection, rather than a carburetor, we started hearing, "don't pump the gas" and "turn the key, but don't hold it". I can also remember the horrible grinding sounds coming from the car engine when my brother would immediately forget these instructions and hold the key in the "on" position for several seconds after the engine was already running. Because my car is newer, and I'd rather not have to replace a worn out starter, I made sure to throw in this little bit of information before every lesson.
4. Seat Belt
I know I mentioned above that this was something my kids already knew about, and although I've raised my kids with the rule, "the car doesn't move until your seat belt is buckled", I always made sure that every time we got into the car, he was the one checking to make sure everyone was buckled up before we started the lesson.
This rule, I'm proud to say, has been carried on with my son. He refuses to drive any of his friends around in his car if they haven't fastened their seat belt. Proud? You bet I am.
Once these four items were covered thoroughly, we were ready to hit the road...at a very low rate of speed. And that's where the real fun, and anxiety, begins.
If you're in the early stages of teaching your child to drive, or you're just beginning to realize how close it will actually be happening for you, I hope these beginning steps that I took can help you out. I know most of these are simple things that we do every day, but keep in mind that for most kids, a trip in the car is a time for them to put in their earbuds and block out the world. Most of them don't really pay much attention to what's going on around them and have no clue what the world of driving really entails. These may seem mundane, or even seem pointless, but trust me, it's all very important information to a learning child.
Have you ever taught a teen to drive?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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