Teaching teens to drive: a parent’s guide

A father is teaching his son how to drive

Every parent dreads the day their teenager gets behind the wheel. You know that your child is responsible, but not every other driver on the road is. What’s more, you likely remember your first experiences learning to drive: they might have been stressful, frustrating, or scary. And although you’re an experienced driver, you might be worried that your teaching skills aren’t up to par. Will you be able to teach your teen defensive driving? What about how to properly merge? You’re not alone. Teaching teens to drive is a source of anxiety for most parents, just as getting on the road is cause for excitement for most teens. Studying up on teaching techniques beforehand can help make this major milestone as fun and stress-free for you and your child as possible.

When to Start Teaching Teens to Drive

It’s likely that your teenager started learning about driving from you well before you started thinking about teaching them. Young children are very observant — in a sense, your child started learning to drive when they were still in their car seat. By driving responsibly with your child in the car (i.e., obeying all traffic lights, minding the speed limit, and coming to a complete stop at all stop signs), you’ve already set yourself and your teen up for success.

Formal Driving Practice

The minimum age to obtain a learner’s permit varies by state, but doing so is always the first step toward earning a full driver’s license. Besides age, the requirements to get a learner’s permit vary as well. These often include:

  • Completion of a specified driver’s education course
  • Passing a written learner’s permit test
  • Passing a vision exam
  • Logging a specified amount of hours driving with an instructor

Once your teenager has met your state’s requirements and earned their learner’s permit, your active role in their learning begins. Restrictions will likely still apply (in some states, drivers with a learner’s permit may not be allowed to drive at night, with passengers, or without an adult over a certain age in the car), but your teen is now firmly in the driver’s seat. As their parent, it’s up to you to build their experience and confidence as they work towards earning their full driver’s license.

Best Practices for Teaching Teens to Drive

While there’s no one foolproof method for teaching your teen to drive, here are some tips to get you started on the right track.

Start Simple

When initially teaching teens to drive, it’s a great idea to have yours learn about your vehicle in a safe place like an empty parking lot. That way, they won’t have any drivers or other distractions to worry about and can focus completely on your car.

In these parking lot sessions, you should show your teenager all the different, basic functions of the car that they need to know before heading out on the road. This should include teaching them how to turn the headlights on and off, how to use the windshield wipers, how to read the fuel gauge, etc. Even if something seems obvious to you, it’s still important to teach them.

Once you’ve gone over these basics, have your teen adjust the driver’s seat to the appropriate height. They should be able to reach the steering wheel, gas, and brake pedals without straining.

Next, they need to adjust their mirrors. Have them position the rearview mirror so that they can see straight through the middle of their back windshield without turning their head. The side mirrors should be set so that they can see the road behind the vehicle as well as a small slice of each side of the car.

Once all mirrors are properly adjusted and seat belts are on, it’s time to get moving. Have your teen get familiar with the gas and brake pedals (and make sure they know which one is on which side!). Making sure they have their foot on the brake, have them shift into drive. Then, have them take their foot off the brake and slowly roll forward. Remind them that they don’t need to stomp on the gas all at once but can instead ease up to speed. Finally, you can have them practice steering around the parking lot at a comfortable speed.

These sessions can continue for as long as you and your teen deem necessary, and can even start before your teen has their learner’s permit. Simple parking lot sessions like this are the perfect opportunity for your teen to start feeling comfortable behind the wheel.

Be Specific

There’s a ton of new information to take in when learning to drive for the first time, which also means a ton of information you need to remember to tell your teen. To make things easier on both of you, try to focus on one thing at a time.

For example, one day might be spent driving around a part of your city where there are lots of four-way intersections. This can help your teen practice coming to a complete stop and remembering who has the right of way. Another day could be spent on a more rural road where traffic tends toward the slower side to help your teen learn to maintain a proper following distance (and not let impatience get the best of them). Another day could be spent learning to merge onto the highway during off-peak hours.

These suggestions aren’t exhaustive — you and your teen can work together to decide on a specific agenda for each driving day.

Keep Calm

No matter how great of a teacher you are or how talented your teen, they WILL make mistakes behind the wheel. It’s important to do everything you can to remain calm when teaching your teen to drive. Getting angry when your teen driver makes a mistake will only make them more tense and more likely to make mistakes during the rest of your driving session.

It’s a good idea to have a talk with your teen about in-car attitudes before you start driving together. Let them know that you understand that learning to drive is stressful, but reassure them that they can learn to handle any driving situation. You should be open about any stress you feel as well — tell your teen that you will do your absolute best to remain calm and helpful, and that they should feel free to point out if your mood is going south or making them tense.

Finally, if either of you becomes too stressed, tense, or nervous, stop the session for the day. You can’t teach well, and your teen can’t learn well, if either of you end up angry.

Points to Practice

Keep in mind that your teen driver will need plenty of repetition to master important driving skills. Some points that commonly trip up teen drivers include:

  • Vehicle maintenance
    • While it’s probably routine for you to check your tire pressure, get your oil changed, and have your tires rotated, your teen might need some help remembering. Make sure they know when these services are due and follow up with them to make sure they get done.
  • Parallel parking
    • Parallel parking is often a challenge even for more experienced drivers, so it makes sense that newer drivers will need more practice. This is another skill that your teen can practice in a parking lot: set up some cones and have them practice parking between them.
  • Inclement weather driving
    • You might not want your teen on the road in bad weather, but it’s important to practice driving with them in a variety of conditions. Try taking your teen out to drive in light to moderate rain to practice driving with lower visibility.

Teen Drivers and Insurance

With a teenager learning to drive, teen car insurance is likely on your mind as well. While your teen doesn’t need car insurance as long as they only have their learner’s permit, it’s not too soon to start thinking about a policy.

When researching car insurance policies for your teen driver, look for comprehensive policies with plenty of coverage. Teen drivers are inexperienced and it’s in everyone’s best interest to protect them in the event of an accident. Since car insurance is generally more expensive for teens, we also offer plenty of ways to save.

If you’re ready to add your teenager to your car insurance, get a quote today.

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