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Teaching your teenage son or daughter to drive

A driver's licence is one of the biggest status symbols a teenager can acquire.  Gaining a driver's licence is not only a social asset but it makes a young person feel independent and grown up.  Excited teenagers often count down the days, hours and minutes to acquiring their provisional licence, eager to demonstrate to their peer group and the world at large their driving ability. 

If only teenagers understood that they are about to embark on the single most dangerous activity that they can legally do. Sadly, car crashes kill more teenagers than any terminal illness, drugs, suicide, alcohol or all combined. To help protect your teenager; Parents need to establish clear and firm conditions, limits, and rules regarding their son or daughter obtaining a driving licence.  

One of the conditions upon passing their test should be membership of RoadDriver's Young Driver Monitoring Scheme. Similar schemes around the world have proved very successful at reducing casualty and death rates among young people.

Some experts believe a parent is not best placed to teach their child to drive. But if you decide to embark on this challenging road, you need to consider the following:

Teaching your teenager to drive needs considerable patience, empathy, and knowledge of what is needed to prepare them not only to pass their test but to become a responsible driver. Many parents understandably approach this task with trepidation and high anxiety; you need to decide which parent is best suited to the task. This will probably have more to do with relationships and temperament than whether Mum or Dad has the most driving experience.

Questions you should ask yourself

  1. Do I get nervous or anxious when other people are driving?
  2. Do I have the ability to guide my son or daughter through a potentially dangerous situation on the road just by using my voice?
  3. Can I stay calm or will I lose my temper if they make a mistake?
  4. Do I have the time? Driving schools recommend at least 30 - 40 hours of tuition.


  • No matter how competent a driver we think we are, it takes special skills to teach a person to drive safely. Therefore, consider enrolling on an advanced driver's course or a defensive driving course to iron out any bad habits you may have picked up over the years. RoadDriver recommends you consider the Institute of Advanced Motorists courses. http://www.iam.org.uk/ 
  • Children are influenced by watching their parent's behaviour, so set a good example to your teenager by always wearing your seatbelt. Drive courteously and defensively, be patient and never lose your temper. If you are an aggressive or selfish driver the likely hood is your son or daughter will mimic your driving style.
  • Whose car are you going to use? Remember if you have a family automatic, your son or daughter will most likely only be able to pass the automatic driving test. It is almost always better to teach in the car that they will be taking their test in and for most families this will probably involve a purchase of a car for the teenagers use.
  • You need to buy adequate insurance for you to drive the car and for your son or daughter to be added to the insurance policy as a provisional driver. In recent years to keep insurance costs down many parents have added their children to their insurance policy stating that the youngster is only an occasional driver but many insurance companies have got wise to this deception and now most insurance companies will not accept youngsters on a parent's policy other than as a provisional driver.
  • If you are going to be your son or daughters driving instructor, it's essential that you both know what to expect from each other before you get in the car. It's always best for your teenager to know beforehand where you're taking them and what you'll be working on in a particular lesson; so plan the lessons in advance with a list of exercises and standards that need to be achieved before moving on to the next task. For example, "Today we're going to drive on the dual carriageway to practice driving at higher speeds, changing lanes and how to use the slip roads safely".
  • Remember your aim is to teach your son or daughter to become a responsible driver so treat them like an adult. When coaching them, don't talk down to them or address them like a child. Avoid negative character comments; such as, "You're making me a nervous wreck". "You're not listening as usual" Praise specific progress and improvement, while offering non-judgmental, optimistic encouraging words, for example "You're remembering to signal almost every time now, soon it will become second nature to you" Well done!
  • When your teenager makes a mistake, try to keep an even tone to your voice with your comments aimed at making your teenager aware rather then making them feel guilty. For example, if you notice the car's speed is increasing, rather than point out that your teenager is breaking the law, ask them, "Do you know what the speed limit is on this road?"
  • Your aim is to make the time spent in the car together a happy time, so don't use instructional time as an opportunity to criticise their school report or the fact that yet again they failed to tidy their bedroom. Be patient! Keep a positive, helpful tone and void sarcastic comments.

The big day has come what's the first thing I should do?

You are about to embark on a training process that is normally conducted by professionals. It's important that you too approach the job of teaching your teenager professionally.

Check that you have all the equipment and paperwork that is necessary to legally teach someone to drive. For example:

  • L plates, are they fixed both front and back in the correct area of the car?
  • Have you fitted a second rear-view mirror the same as driving instructors use?
  • Extended wing mirrors can also be useful (the type caravanners use)
  • Have you got both your driving licences' and insurance details to hand?
  • Pen and paper to keep notes.
  • Keep the sessions short, usually no longer than 1-1½ hours at first.
  • Is your head in the right place? Starting stressed is hardly conducive to a calm teaching environment.

First Lesson

The aim of the first lesson is to familiarise your teenager with the car and to achieve hand foot co-ordination. The lesson should last about 1½ hrs.

  1. Before you set off; with you in the driver's seat, get your teenager to stand outside and to check your brake lights, rear lights, headlights, indicators, windscreen wipers, screen wash and car horn are all working correctly.
  2. Ensure you both have your seatbelts on, radio is off. You are now ready to drive to a quiet area or a large empty car park. On arrival apply the handbrake and turn off the engine.
  3. Sitting in the driver's seat, show your teenager the instrument panel. Illustrate the use of the indicators and windscreen wiper arms on the steering column. Clarify the use of headlights, hazard warning lights and if fitted the correct use of electric windows.
  4. With the engine still turned off describe each foot pedal and imitate the use of the clutch pedal and gear lever. Show how you release your left foot off the clutch pedal as you apply pressure with your right foot to the accelerator. Explain how there is a midway point at which the clutch allows the engine to take up traction in order to move forward.
  5. Show how to use the foot brake and handbrake. Explain that if an emergency occurs or if the car kangaroos depress the clutch and apply the footbrake while simultaneously checking the road ahead and the cars mirrors.
  6. Swop seats with your teenager and ensure you both have your safety belts fastened and the handbrake is still applied.
  7. Get your teenager to adjust the cars steering wheel, mirrors, seat and headrest to suit their height and driving position.
  8. Run through once again the various switches, windscreen wiper and indicator arms controls.
  9. With the engine still switched off, get your teenager to try out the foot pedals and to practice the use of the clutch and the gear lever simultaneously. When you're happy that your teenager has mastered the rudiments of the gear lever and driving controls it is now time to practice for real.
  10. While patience is a virtue don't be surprised at your nervous reaction to your teenager's first attempt at driving; most parents freak out once the engine is switched on, so calm down and take a deep breath.
  11. Make sure the car is in neutral and tell your teenager to switch on the ignition. Get them to check that no warning lights are still illuminated on the control panel. Let them feel how it is to rev the engine, look around to make sure no one is near you in the car park. Instruct them to depress the clutch while simultaneously shifting the gear stick into first gear; tell them how to release the clutch pedal at the same time as applying pressure to the accelerator pedal. If the car has not stalled, get your teenager to steer the car around the car park in first gear only at this stage and praise their efforts.
  12. Remember in this first lesson your task is to help your teenager master the gear stick and foot controls, it is not how to teach them to drive. This is more than enough for one lesson, you should repeat this lesson in an empty car park until your teenager has mastered the use of the cars controls including braking safely and how to move up and down the gears while steering the car in a safe direction.
  13. Once you are happy that your teenager has mastered the basic controls of the car in the safety of the car park. You are now ready to teach the fundamentals of safe driving. For example, the three basics, mirror, indicate, manoeuvre.
  14. A couple of lessons for these manoeuvre's in the safety of the car park would be advisable until they have mastered the hand, eye and foot co-ordination needed to operate a car safely. Use this time to go through the Highway Code and to test your teenager's knowledge of the theory test.
  15. You are now ready to teach your teenager how to drive on the roads. Find a quiet area and be prepared for errors as learning in a car park is a far cry from a thoroughfare no matter how quiet. Remember there is no substitute for practice, so allow as much time as possible for your teenager to learn. Vary the driving conditions from day to night driving and especially practice in the rain.
  16. How long it will take to get your teenager up to standard enough to pass their test will vary from individual to individual. A good way to help your teenager learn is to point out other drivers misdemeanours.
  17. When you are driving take the time to explain to your teenager what you are doing and why. For instance, explain to them why you have chosen to keep in third gear as you approach the traffic lights and why are you now slowing down before the junction and also your reasons for choosing that particular lane to come off the roundabout and so on.
  18. When driving with your teenager reinforce the message that driving is a privilege not a right of passage. Let them know that it can be taken away at any time by you the parents or by the Police for careless behaviour.
  19. Ask your teenager about friends who already drive and ask for examples of good and bad driving behaviour exhibited by their peers. This will give you an insight into what your teenager's thoughts are with regard to their own driving and their attitude towards road safety.
  20. Supervised behind-the-wheel driving experience is the key to developing the necessary habits and skills for safe driving.  Parents need to work with their teenagers to help them gain the needed experience and judgement; But remember parents are fallible human beings, if the anxiety of teaching your son or daughter gets too much, it may be better to hand the task over to a Professional Driving Instructor before you lose any more hair!

Teaching your teenage son or daughter to drive

Tips and Advice article No. 66 RoadDriver 2010

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