From the annals of node what you know.

I have a teen-age son who is 16 and we are working together on learning how to drive. While he has had his learner’s permit for well over a year now he did for quite some time indicate that he wasn’t quite ready yet. I can certainly see why with road rage in the news and the amount of ever-increasing traffic here in Tucson. I think it’s a wise thing for him to take the time and decide when he is ready. For him it was riding the bus as a high school Junior that made up his mind. My older son was a completely different story. The day after getting his driver’s permit; it was a frozen January morning at 5 A.M. that he pried my warm sleepy self out of bed for his first driving lesson. We had some breakfast while we waited for the sun to come up. Talked about what we would be working on and then headed out to the nearest Costco parking lot for his first experience behind the wheel.

Aside from being a parent, I am also a teacher so these driving scenarios are presented in the format of small lesson plans. Here in the US many states vary in the requirements of how many hours required for new drivers to have behind the wheel, most driving instructors recommend a minimum of 40 hours of supervised driving time. As a parent you can increase the driving time requirements depending on whether or not you think your son or daughter is ready. Keeping track in a small note book of the times and mileage that you spend practicing together is a good idea.

Teen drivers have the highest crash involvement and fatality rates of any group. Three cousins, all at the age of 17, lost their lives in three separate traffic accidents. Two were passengers, the third lost control while speeding. One was a girl, two were brothers from the same family, and none of them were wearing seat belts. Young drivers are not only inexperienced, they frequently over estimate their abilities and the consequences can be devastating.

Driver education programs are important too. They make a nice companion in helping beginning drivers learn fundamental skills and the rules of the road. Many high schools offer them for a small cost and insurance companies give discounts on their rates for passing the course. Many also prepare your teen for taking the drivers test when applying for their first permit.

Insurance companies know that good students make good drivers. Good student discounts are available for students who maintain at least a B average or rank in the upper 20 percent on at least one nationally standardized test administered within the past 12 months, such as the SAT, ACT or Iowa Skill test.

It takes a combination of all of these things to learn how to safely drive a vehicle. Above all it takes supervised practice and guiding your teen through a series of progressively more complicated experiences behind the wheel along with your support towards developing safe driving behaviors. Several practice sessions should be spent in each setting. Moving on to the next session should be determined by your teen’s self-assurance and your confidence in their preparedness.

Tips for parents

Before you begin the practice sessions, take a good look at your driving habits to make sure you are modeling the behaviors you will want from your teen.
  • Do you wear your seat belt?
  • Do you come to a complete stop at stop signs?
  • Do you observe posted speed limits?
  • Do you maintain safe following distances?
  • Do you signal when changing lanes?
  • Do you stop for red lights?
  • Do you treat other drivers with courtesy?
  • Do you refrain from driving under the influence?

Talking about risky driving behaviors and their consequences is important. Teens don’t exhibit the same driving behaviors with friends as they do with their parents. Safety belts, drinking and driving, speeding, and teen passengers are critical topics to discuss. Some families have rules that they may ride with friends after the friend has acquired at least one year of independent driving experience. The effects of traffic tickets and crashes on the cost of insurance is also an important subject.

Before you begin plan ahead the route for each session and discuss it together. Start with 15-20 minutes intervals and gradually increase to an hour. Stay calm. Remember your teen is nervous too! Give positive feed back--lots of it. Be patient. When a mistake happens, tell them why it happened and tell them that’s okay, you expect mistakes. Give specific and concise instructions. Check traffic before instructing them to change lanes, turn or stop. Point out to them the changing road conditions, hazards, and other drivers. This will go a long way towards helping them to develop abilities to anticipate potential road problems. At the end of each session sum it up together. Give constructive feedback. Ask your teen for feedback about your instructions. It's a rare parent who can teach his teen to drive without experiencing some anxiety. If you can't keep your anxiety in check and it's turning the experience into a tension-filled meltdown zone; hand over the role to another family member, a trusted adult, or a professional driving instructor who is more suited.

It’s important to point out that you should feel that your teen has mastered each skill in each lesson before moving on to the next one and understand that it may take more than one session for the skills to be acquired.

Lesson One


You are in the driver’s seat in this scenario. The objective is for you to guide your teen through the process of driving. Use the car or vehicle your teen will be driving for the upcoming practice sessions. Focus on the skills and tell them why you are doing things. Kids don’t lean by osmosis and modeling helps set the stage in a useful order for your teen. Make the observation practice overt and active. Talk to your teen about the driving skills you are demonstrating.

While you are both sitting in the car in the driveway explain the basic operations of the following:

While you are on the road show and explain skills.
  • Signaling
  • Mirror use
  • Checking blind spots
  • Braking
  • Turning
  • Lane changes
  • Maintaining speed
  • Scanning for hazards and anticipating potential problems.
  • Intersections and right of way
  • Yielding
  • Merging
  • Following distances—The two second rule or I prefer the much simpler to relate rule :
    Follow two car lengths behind for every 10 miles per hour.
  • Parking—on the street and in parking lots
  • Backing up.

Lesson Two

Getting the feel of the vehicle

The best place for this is a large empty parking lot, during daylight. The purpose of this exercise is to help the new driver feel comfortable maneuvering the car. Point out basic skills, even if your teen has already taken a driver-training course. All vehicles handle differently.

Basic operations to be mastered for this lesson:

  • Adjust the mirrors, seat, and steering wheel.
  • Find the blind spots. It helps to get out of the car and stand in the blind spots as your teen adjusts the mirrors.
  • Starting the engine.
  • Accelerating
  • Turning
  • Using turning indicators
  • Braking
  • Backing up
  • Parking—pulling into and out of a parking space.

Now it’s time to practice hard braking by accelerating to 25-30 miles per hour and pressing hard on the brakes. Do this several times until the driver is comfortable with the feel of ABS. Next place an empty box in the center of the parking lot. While approaching the box at a speed of 25-30 mph, have your teen hit the brakes, steer around it and get back into the “lane.”

Lesson Three

Low Traffic Areas

Plan a route though neighborhood and city streets. Pick streets with speed limits that do not exceed 35 mph and before you leave talk with your teen about the route and especially and special situations you expect to encounter. School zones or road construction for example.

Skills to practice for this scenario:

  • Signal use
  • Braking
  • Right turns
  • Left turns
  • Controlled intersection—with traffic lights or signs
  • Uncontrolled intersections. Talk about who gets to go first at the intersection and why.
  • Protected and unprotected turns
  • Right of way
  • Changing lanes
  • Maintaining proper speeds
  • Scanning and identifying hazards
Some things to look for and bring to the drivers attention.
  • Pedestrians
  • Crosswalks
  • Bicyclists
  • Bike lanes
  • Children and pets. Especially to be wary of them dodging into the street from parked cars along the streets.
  • School buses
  • School zones
  • Emergency vehicles
  • Bus stops.
  • Turning lanes

Lesson Four

Urban areas

Preplan a route that includes city streets with speed limits of 45 mph or less. The business district, shopping areas and downtown are good choices for sessions on urban streets. Prepare your teen in advance for the added challenges of heavier traffic and increased traffic control measures.

Skills to practice:

  • Maintaining proper following distances
  • Controlled intersections
  • Turning from the proper lane
  • Adjusting speed
  • Getting around in busy parking lots
  • Parking on streets and parking lots
  • Entering the road from a parking lot
  • Merging with traffic
  • Scanning and identifying hazards
Things to point out and discuss.
  • Crosswalks
  • Buses
  • Heavier traffic
  • Restricted use lanes – buses and right turn only
  • One way streets
An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study says that running traffic controls like red lights and stop signs cause 22% of crashes in urban areas and that this type of crash is also the most likely to result in injuries.

Teaching your teenager to drive: Part II

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