By Dave Herron
- Understand the problem
- Model your driving behavior
- Get some refresher training
- Start training them early
- Use the continuous commentary method.
- Stay calm
Understanding the problem
The United States has one of the worst teen driver training programs in the industrialized world. Unlike Canada and Western Europe, our teens can start learning to drive earlier and in states without Graduated Driver’s Licenses (GDLs), they are considered fully qualified to drive at age 16. Canadians can’t start until they are 16 and have to pass two road tests separated by a 12 month period before becoming fully qualified at age 20. Germans start at 18 and will spend up to $2500 on professional driving lessons, study materials, and tests to get their license.
In the U.S., kids are normally taught by their parents and since those parents are rarely professional driving instructors, they may unwittingly be passing on a lot of bad driving habits to their teen. As a result, the most dangerous period for teen drivers is during their first couple of years of driving. The danger doesn’t come so much from their outright flouting of the driving laws but from the lack of proper training and their inability to react correctly when encountering driving situations they have never faced before.
Model your driving behavior
Your need to take a good, hard look at your own driving behaviors. Do you come to a full stop at stop signs? Do you normally travel 10 to 15 mph over the speed limit? Do you step on the gas when the light turns yellow? If you have any of these driving habits you have been teaching them to your child since he or she was a toddler. Your first step in teaching your teen to drive is to model your behavior after the behavior you want them to adopt when they drive. This should start a couple of years early, if possible, and you should let your child know that you are deliberately changing your behavior and why. Teens have no tolerance for hypocrisy and telling a kid to “Do as I say, not as I do.” will create a lot of conflict.
Get some refresher training
From your perspective, your driving behaviors may not be all that bad or dangerous but, if you take a hard look at the driving laws, you will know, deep down, that you are probably modeling the wrong behavior for your child. It might not be a bad idea for you and your spouse to voluntarily take a driver training class as a refresher. During the class, don’t be afraid to discuss your driving behaviors and feel free to ask the instructor about them. You should also start studying your state’s driver training manual. We all get ingrained in our habits and everyone needs some refresher training from time to time.
Start training them early
When your child turns 14, it’s a good time to put them in the front seat and to start pointing out the driving situation. Point out drivers who are driving badly and explain why. Explain the defensive driving techniques that you are taking to avoid conflicts with other drivers. Start teaching them the road sign shapes, colors, and meanings. Use unusual driving or weather conditions to discuss how they should be handled. Start a feedback and have your child point out the signs. See if he or she can recognize bad driving behaviors, explain why they are dangerous, and what should be done to avoid them. Avoid the temptation to tell them what they should do and instead, ask them how they feel a particular situation should be handled.
Use the continuous commentary method.
When your child gets behind the wheel, you should have them start a continuous commentary on what they are seeing and what they need to do. For example:
- “I see a reduced speed sign ahead, I need to watch for the new speed limit and be prepared to slow.”
- “There is a construction zone ahead. I need to prepare to slow and watch for conflicts with other vehicles, construction equipment and workers.”
- “That driver is pulling out of the parking lot ahead. I need to be prepared in case he doesn’t see me and pulls out in front of me.”
- “There are kids on bicycles ahead. They could be unpredictable; I need to slow and give them a wide margin.”
This commentary should be continuous while they learn to drive. Of course, once they start driving on their own, it will stop but the concept will be deeply ingrained in them. This is a habit you should start before you start teaching them so you can model it for them.
Once they have a few months of driving experience, start taking them out in more difficult driving situations (rain, snow, rush hour). They need to experience these situations while you are there to guide them.
Teaching a child to drive can be an emotional experience and tempers can easily flare. This is not a good state of mind to be in while anyone, especially a novice driver, is driving. While it may be hard, you are in control of your emotions. If you were teaching someone else’s child to drive, you would probably keep your emotions in check. While teaching your child to drive, think of them as someone else’s child; watch your temper and try to remain calm. Obviously, if the situation becomes dangerous, you need to have them pull off the road but use the situation as a teaching moment and wait until everyone is calm before starting out again.
At National Safety Commission our mission is to make consumers more vigilant and understand that “safety is no accident”. We work to increase awareness of important safety issues, particularly those that deal with highway and traffic safety information through education, quality traffic school online courses and outreach programs. Through our traffic safety blogs we promote defensive driving techniques, driver training and safety. Learn more about teen driver safety at our Teen Safe Driving Blog.