How to Teach Your Teen to Drive

Young driver with a hand on the steering wheel and sun shining through window.

A brief overview...

  • It’s typically a parent’s history of car accidents that is the primary predictor of teen car accidents.
  • Start out slow, with short lessons in low-traffic areas.
  • Do your best to remain calm and supportive while your teen is behind the wheel.
  • It’s essential to teach your teen not to use their cell phone while driving.

Teaching driving skills to a teen is one of the most exciting and frustrating activities you can do with your child. It can be exciting because once the mission is accomplished, your child will have a newfound level of independence.

However, it can be frustrating because teaching your child to drive can be challenging for all parties involved.

No doubt you’re likely going to be providing supplementary instruction to augment a driver’s education class.

Or, there are those rare situations in which a parent teaches their teen to drive in states where a driver’s education course is not required.

Either way, the most important thing is to teach your teen safe driving habits from day one.

According to the science journal, Accident Analysis and Prevention, motor vehicle collisions are the number one cause of death for teens between the ages of 15 and 19. This statistic is even more alarming if you’re a parent who has gotten in a wreck.

Accident Analysis and Prevention report that kids aren’t getting in wrecks due to poor driver’s education classes.

It’s typically a parent’s history of car accidents that is the primary predictor of teen car accidents.

Additionally, a study found that teens need better driving practice from parents. The parents in the study didn’t spend enough time training their kids and the kids didn’t get enough diverse driving practice.

In 2008 alone, 1,368 teens died in car accidents. It’s time to take control and choose the right strategy for training your teenage driver.

Let Them Take Initiative

Letting your child take initiative might seem counter-intuitive. You might be ready to get them started behind the wheel before you send them off to driver’s ed, but they must have the desire to learn.

Driving can be scary for some teens. If you push them before they’re emotionally ready, your lessons will already be off to a bad start.

Once your teen says they’re ready to learn, you’re in a good space to teach them. Fortunately, you can count on good old fashioned peer-pressure and the desire to fit in.

The 2006 National Young Driver Survey found that nearly 75 percent of 9th – 11th graders were learning or in the process of learning to drive, while more than 50 percent of 9th graders were already drivers.

Once your teen’s friends are drivers, it’s only a matter of time until they want to follow suit.

Start Small and Slow

There’s no need to immediately direct your child to the freeway or sit down for hours-long lessons.

Instead, start out slow, with short lessons in low-traffic areas. As both of you get more comfortable, you can extend the length and complexity of your lessons.

A good place to start is an empty parking lot when you can be certain there won’t be anyone around. In the beginning, a church parking lot on a weekday is a fine option. Next, take them to country locales where they can drive with minimal traffic.

Teach them to drive carefully around the neighborhood — nearly 33 percent of accidents happen within a mile of home, and 77 percent of patients in a study were injured in car accidents within 10 miles of their homes.

Be a Good Role Model

Being a good role model starts well before your kid wants to drive.

Most of us try our best to follow the rules of the road, but no one is perfect — we’ve all demonstrated poor judgment behind the wheel at some point.

That said, now is the best time to model good driving behavior.

A study on Traffic Psychology and Behavior found that your conduct as a driver while your teen is in the early stages of learning ultimately impacts the way your teen chooses to drive when they’re on their own.

Your teen is highly impressionable — they’re paying a great deal of attention to the driving process to get cues on how it works — and your conduct will make a huge difference down the road.

Here are some easy ways to influence your young driver positively:

  • Be vocal – Introduce the topic when you get in the car by saying something like, “There are so many people on the road today! What do you think makes for good driving?” Then, narrate your driving decisions as you go, note other drivers’ decisions, and solicit your teen’s opinion.
  • Be extra careful – Buckle your seatbelt right away and be pronounced about following the rules as best you can. Be mindful on the road. Avoid cell phone use as much as possible while you’re driving — if you have to use it, pull over.
  • Be fun – Have an upbeat attitude as you’re driving safely and dealing with other drivers — crack a few jokes, laugh — and avoid road rage at all costs.
  • Be early – Why do we speed and make risky decisions? A lot of the time, it’s because we’re late. Make a point of leaving early so that stress and risky driving don’t enter the picture.
  • Be insured – Keep your auto insurance up to date and point out this is one of the things you do to comply with the law.

You’ll be doing yourself a favor by following these tips, and your child will take note.

Be Calm and Supportive

Do your best to remain calm and supportive while your teen is behind the wheel. Driving can be intimidating and your teen is bound to make mistakes while they learn. Yelling at them or getting upset will only aggravate the situation.

Giving your teen a positive driving experience while emphasizing safety is perhaps the most important thing you can do.

The last thing a driver should do is panic while they’re behind the wheel.

A positive, calm, supportive experience with you in the car will prepare them to continue in this vein when they’re driving on their own.

Make Sure They’re Prepared

There are a few steps you should take to prepare your teen before they ever get behind the wheel on their own:

  • Make sure they’re properly insured – Car insurance for your teen is extremely important in case they get in a wreck or get pulled over. Make sure they know exactly where to locate the insurance card — include one copy in the glovebox with the registration and one in their wallet.
  • Make sure to discuss what they’ve learned – Have a brief chat with them before they head out the door and discuss their knowledge, including what to do before they leave the curb, rules of the road, defensive driving strategies, and the importance of avoiding distracted driving, which is the number one cause of accidents.
  • Make sure they can get out of a bind – Roadside assistance coverage will help immensely if they break down.
  • Make sure the car is good to go – Have them run through a vehicle safety checklist with you to ensure their car is in good driving condition. The more they run through the list before they drive, the more prepared they’ll be to spot car problems as they get older.
  • Make sure they’re familiar with the car’s features – Have them identify every feature in the car necessary for driving properly and safely.

At a certain point, you have to let go.

If they’ve gone through driver’s education, earned their learner’s permit, you’ve spent hours accompanying them in the car, and you’ve put in as much additional time as possible helping them learn, run through the list above and they should be ready to hit the road.

Teach Them Outside the Car

The National Young Driver Survey revealed that nearly two-thirds of teens care about what their parents think about cell phones.

Given the fact that distracted driving is the number one cause of accidents, it’s essential to teach your teen not to use their cell phone while driving.

There are plenty of lessons you could teach them but it’s important not to be heavy-handed. Teach them things they won’t learn in driver’s ed, such as how to buy their first car.

Show them how to use a car purchase calculator.

When it comes to some lessons they’ll learn in driver’s ed, it doesn’t hurt to offer a reminder.

Teach them how to change a tire and how to respond to an emergency on the road, because they are bound to experience one at some point in their life.

Teach them what to do in case of a wreck: call the police and the insurance company, don’t admit fault, and take plenty of pictures.

In the end, safe driving is up to your teen, and you must accept the chance that they’ll get in a wreck — sometimes that’s just how young drivers learn.

Put time into helping them learn and your teen will be much more likely to walk away from a wreck unscathed.