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How to Teach a Teen to Drive

Only yesterday your child was a toddler. Now, they’re a teen who’s learning how to drive. With a little bit of preparation, helping them develop their driving skills can be a wonderful bonding experience. Follow these tips to teach your teen to become a confident and safe driver.

Make sure your teen’s ready to drive.

If the idea of your teen driving makes you anxious, you’re not alone. After all, motor vehicle accidents are incredibly common among young, inexperienced drivers. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teen drivers have crash rates nearly four times those of drivers 20 and older per mile driven. 

Which age is best for learning to drive? That varies with each teen. As you evaluate whether it’s the right time for yours to get behind the wheel, consider whether they:

  • Are dedicated to their schoolwork
  • Show a desire to achieve goals
  • Agree to your household and state rules for permitted drivers (asks before using the car, drives only during the day or accompanied by an adult)
  • Demonstrate responsibility (has positive friendships, shows leadership in and out of the classroom, or begins employment)

Ultimately, only you know whether your teen’s ready for this milestone. Don’t rush it if they’re not. Remember, learning how to drive a car for the first time is a big step and requires time, commitment and concentration.

How do you teach a beginner to drive?

Review your state’s requirements for young drivers with your teen. There are at least 37 states where driver’s ed is mandatory.

In addition to driving lessons for teenagers with a licensed instructor, are there restrictions on when they can drive, who else can be in the car, using a cellphone?

Take these guidelines seriously, and consider adding stricter ones of your own. Maybe limit your teen to one friend in the car, or driving only during the day. Forbid making phone calls or texting while driving. Require everyone in the vehicle to always wear seat belts. Prohibit speeding.

It’s also important to discuss the dangers of using alcohol and other drugs. Make sure they understand it’s illegal to drink under the age of 21 − and both illegal and deadly to drink and drive.

Get your teen used to the vehicle.

Before your teen puts the keys in the ignition, show them how each of these features works:

  • Dashboard controls
  • Steering wheel and seat adjustment
  • Mirror adjustment
  • Gas, brakes, parking brake
  • Turn signals
  • Lights (low- and high-beam headlights, interior and emergency lights)
  • Seat belts, air bags and other safety features
  • Windshield wipers and the defroster
  • Warning indicators (low fuel, oil, temperature, etc.)

Also make sure they know where to find the registration, insurance card and operator’s manual.

Start with basic skills.

Once your teen’s ready to drive, head to an empty parking lot to practice. Have them:

  • Apply the gas and brakes.
  • Drive forward and back up.
  • Make safe turns, both left and right, including signaling.
  • Show awareness of surroundings.
  • Shift gears if using a manual transmission.
  • Stop the car smoothly.

As your teen masters these skills, move to quiet streets where they can work on:

  • Making turns (speed and using turn signals)
  • Accelerating and braking smoothly
  • Determining right of way
  • Changing lanes and merging into traffic
  • Maintaining appropriate speed
  • Scanning for and identifying hazards
  • Crossing railroad tracks
  • Following at a safe distance
  • Sharing the road with cyclists, pedestrians and school buses
  • Driving in a school zone
  • Reacting to an approaching emergency vehicle

When you’re both ready, start practicing on familiar roads at different times of the day, in assorted levels of traffic and with varying weather conditions. Stick to low-speed, low-traffic areas, and take different routes for the variety your teen needs to become a safe driver.

Move on to advanced skills.

Learning how to drive a car for the first time is one thing, parking it is quite another. Once again, an empty parking lot and a quiet residential street are good places for your teen to practice parallel parking, pulling into and out of a 90-degree parking or diagonal parking space, and parking on a hill. This is also the time for learning how to make a safe three-point or U-turn.

With lots of traffic and high speeds, highway driving can be pretty intense for a new driver. First, prepare your teen for:

Maintaining proper speed

Checking for blind spots before changing lanes

  • Passing and being overtaken
  • Driving near large trucks
  • Anticipating interchanges by reading signs
  • Allowing a safe space around the vehicle in case they need to pull off the road
  • Looking for stopped or slowing traffic ahead

Next, get them started with driving at quieter times of the day to practice merging into traffic, staying in the lane, using higher speeds and following at safe distances. Then, gradually move on to busier traffic situations.

Difficult conditions are dangerous for all drivers, but particularly for inexperienced operators. When you’re confident your teen can handle most driving situations in daylight and good weather, give them plenty of supervised opportunities to drive each type of road at night and in rain, snow and fog.

Wondering what NOT to do when teaching someone to drive?

  • Don’t let your emotions run wild. Use a calm and confident tone of voice. Appearing anxious can distract from safe driving.
  • Discuss where you’re going ahead of time.
  • Give simple directions and communicate them clearly. For example, use “correct” instead of “right” to avoid confusion.
  • Lead by example. Your teen will also learn by watching what you do behind the wheel. Be a good role model by driving as you want them to.

Teach your teen how to maintain the vehicle.

Show them how to:

  • Change a tire
  • Check the air pressure in tires
  • Open the hood to check oil and transmission fluid
  • Top off the windshield wiper fluid
  • Interpret warning lights on the dashboard
  • Pump gas

Contact your insurance company when your teen’s ready for a learner’s permit. Usually, you don’t need to add them to your auto policy until they officially get a license, but it’s good to check. And since your rates will change when you add someone to your policy, think about saving money by combining your home or life insurance with one company, or taking advantage of available discounts. Call one of Amica’s insurance professionals about customized protection that fits your budget and protects your teen driver on the road.

At the end of the day, learning how to drive and becoming a safe, capable driver take time − lots of time − behind the wheel. How long does it take to learn to drive? As with when it’s time to learn, how long to learn depends on your beginning driver’s personality and ability to perceive information.

That’s why you must prepare yourself mentally to spend plenty of time driving with your teen. Many states require 50 hours of supervised in-car experience at a minimum. Experts say 100 hours would be better. New drivers must think about every single step because they have no experience. The more they drive, the less they’ll have to think about each step.

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