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Helping Your Teen Learn to Drive Safely

By Jamell Andrews

Because driving is such a routine thing for so many adults, we tend to forget what a serious act it is to get behind the wheel. A car is a massive, potentially dangerous piece of machinery, and operating one comes with a world of adult responsibilities. So it is hard for many parents to imagine that their 15-year-olds will soon be driving unsupervised. Sure, there are drivers’ training classes and learner’s permits, but your child is still your baby, and no amount of preparation can fully prepare you for the day he or she drives off without you.

Still, by playing an active role in your child’s learning and taking some smart steps, you can set your mind at ease and feel confident that your teen will be as safe and responsible behind the wheel as any grownup.

Early training
First, keep in mind that driving is like anything else: The more you do it, the better you will be. So while your child is in the learning stage, take every opportunity to get out there and practice. It is important to go through everything not just once or twice but many times. Practice all types of parking and maneuvering, and get plenty of driving in both city and highway settings. By the time your teen actually gets a license, the practice time should total dozens, if not hundreds, of hours.

Common sense says that you cannot just put a young person behind the wheel and expect them to be comfortable with city driving right away. It is best to find a large empty parking lot to practice simple maneuvering and parking. Once he or she is comfortable with that, hit some country roads or quiet neighborhood streets where there are not many people or cars around. Instruct your child not to panic when another car approaches. If it helps, use emergency flashers when a car approaches, slow down, and signal the other driver to go around.

In this stage, it is important to continuously emphasize all the basic tenets of driving. If you have not had driver’s instruction in many years, you may actually want to give yourself a refresher on the rules before taking your child out for training. Then, as you are on the road, emphasize the importance of defensive driving, and teach basics such as safe following distances, being safe around pedestrians and cyclists, checking blind spots, and constantly scanning the road ahead.

Advanced training
When your teen has mastered all the skills that go along with basic driving on non-busy streets, it is time to graduate to the harder stuff. There is some debate about whether highway driving or city driving is harder. City driving is undoubtedly more complex and involves many skills that can only be learned through practice. Highway driving is simpler but involves higher speeds, and the entering and exiting parts can be nerve-racking.

Whichever one you choose to approach first, make sure you do it at an hour of the day in which the streets will not be busy, and discuss everything extensively beforehand. If you are going to take your teen on the highway, do it on a section of highway you are very familiar with so you can talk him or her through the whole process. You may even want to drive through it yourself a couple of times as your teen observes.

Learning city driving is much the same. You should do it in an area where you are very familiar with the roads. Start with simple, straightforward courses before asking your child do to any complex maneuvers. When you get to the more difficult parts-such as left turns and entering busy roadways-advise your teen not to panic and to take as long as he or she needs. If things do not go well, go back to the drawing board and repeat some of the early training steps until the lessons are more deeply engrained.

All of this can be difficult for parents who want their children to be safe. But the fact is that the only way to really learn to drive is to get behind the wheel and learn by doing. And even though your teen may be anxious to rush the process, make sure to spread the process out over a long period, and allow plenty of time for repetition. By the time your child gets a license, driving should seem like a routine task.

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