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New Teenage Drivers: Tips for Parents

Learning to drive can be nerve-wracking for adolescents and moms and dads. It's likely to be your first experience putting your safety and auto investment in your adolescent's hands. And since you know all the risks of the road, this can be pretty scary.

Moms and dads play an important role in helping adolescents practice their driving skills and develop confidence behind the wheel. To help prepare for this critical time in your adolescent's life, it may help to refresh your driving knowledge by attending a basic defensive driving course. You'd be surprised to learn how much has changed since you learned to drive.

When it comes to driving, experience is an important teacher. The more time teen drivers spend honing a variety of skills in different road and weather conditions, the more calm and confident they will feel and the better they'll be able to react to challenging situations.

Before each practice session, plan the specific skills you want to go over. If possible, make your lessons coincide with what your adolescent is learning in driver's education at school. Consider your adolescent's temperament — and your own. If the lessons are too long, nerves might get frayed and it may be difficult to stay calm.

An empty parking lot is an ideal place for adolescents to:
  • get a feel for how the car handles
  • learn the location of some of the basic controls, like windshield wipers, defroster, and lights
  • practice simple car control skills like turning and braking

After practicing the basics of moving in drive and reverse, try to work on these skills on quiet back roads, where there's little traffic:
  • coming to a full stop at a stop sign
  • keeping a constant speed when going uphill
  • keeping a safe following distance
  • making a left turn on a two-way road
  • navigating around pedestrians, animals, bikers, and runners
  • practicing an aggressive visual search (looking for potential road hazards)
  • recognizing and understanding street signs
  • slowing down around curves
  • understanding the rules of a four-way stop

Once adolescents have mastered those basic skills, they should get some practice driving on bigger, busier roads and highways. On these roads, you can help your adolescent practice:
  • approaching, slowing down, and stopping at traffic lights/intersections — green, yellow, and red
  • changing lanes
  • maintaining a safe speed based on road conditions
  • making a left on a green yield
  • merging into traffic
  • understanding the different lanes — like not going below the speed limit in the left lane
  • using on and off ramps at appropriate speeds

Adolescent drivers should learn to anticipate and watch for potential problems from other drivers — always expecting the other driver to do something that will put them at greatest risk. For instance, when approaching a stop sign, they should watch for other cars coming from different directions that may not stop. In traffic, encourage your adolescent to watch for cars that suddenly switch lanes without signaling or pull out in front.

New teen drivers often have trouble anticipating the actions of other vehicles, accurately sensing how much speed and space certain situations require, and effectively recognizing high risk traffic situations. These are skills that drivers develop with experience and time.

Once comfortable with these skills, have your adolescent practice driving in different conditions such as:
  • Construction/roadwork: Construction zones have many signs and congestion that are good learning points for any new driver.
  • Dusk and dawn: Glare from the sun makes it difficult for drivers to see.
  • Nighttime: Reduced visibility means greater risk that can lead to a collision.
  • Rain and snow: Practicing on slick pavement gives adolescents a chance to find the right speed for the conditions and helps demonstrate how traction is reduced.

After plenty of practice, give your adolescent a chance to drive with more passengers in the car. Begin with family members or close friends who your adolescent is comfortable driving with and you're comfortable coaching around.

Before your first driving session with your adolescent, sit down together and discuss your expectations, including the skills you'd like to practice and how long it will take.

Once the lesson begins, remember that the goal is for your adolescent to get comfortable, confident, and safe behind the wheel. Becoming a skilled driver takes time and experience, so it's important to be patient and:

• Keep it simple. Practice skills one at a time. In basketball, an individual can't learn to shoot, defend, pass, and dribble all at once, and the same goes for driving skills. Remember that it can be hard for new teen drivers to process multiple things at once while trying to drive — it can even be a distraction.

• Provide some warm-up time. First practice in safe areas, away from other cars, with low stress and risk. Then, as you get more comfortable with one another, you'll be ready to take on bigger challenges, like the open road and the highway.

• Turn mistakes into lessons. When a mistake happens, have your adolescent pull over, if possible, so you can talk calmly about what went wrong and how to avoid repeats.

As long as you are alert and attentive while your rookie driver is at the wheel, you should be prepared to help with any situation that may arise.

A simple tutorial about the basics of car maintenance, like changing a tire, is important for a new driver. So show your teenager where the spare tire, lug wrench, and other equipment is kept and how to use it.

Other emergency and maintenance necessities to go over include:
  • checking the oil
  • jump-starting a car
  • maintaining proper air pressure in the tires
  • pumping and paying for gas

Approaching driver training with an open mind, a positive attitude, and patience will give your adolescent the best foundation for becoming a skilled and safe driver.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents with Defiant Teens

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