Driven Round The Bend: Teaching Teens To Drive

16/12/2013 10:40 | Updated 22 May 2015

Driven round the bend: Teaching teens to drivePA

When did your typical teen ever do anything you asked, straight away, without a sullen grunt or a slam of the door? So why do we expect to teach a hormonal teenager to control a car and obey us instantly while we bark instructions from the passenger seat? Madness.

Is teaching your child to drive a sensible idea? I managed it for 10 minutes; a white-knuckled ride punctuated with outbursts of, "What do you know!" from the teen and wails of, "Take me home NOW!" from me.

Young drivers are responsible for 1:4 accidents, so how can we ensure that teenagers are safe on the roads?

The Expert's View

Maria McCarthy author of The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates: How to Learn to Drive and The Girls' Car Handbook, agrees that teens should not learn with a parent.

"Sit with them when they go for practise drives by all means – clocking up the hours really does help - but don't try to teach them."

One of the main reasons is that the driving test is more onerous than it was when most parents learned to drive, and we have acquired bad habits.

I asked Maria for her top tip for learner drivers. "Finding the right instructor is the key to good driving. If you aren't comfortable with them, then find someone else- there are plenty to choose from and you don't have to stick with the first one."

Once your teen has mastered the basics, let them drive you somewhere familiar, such as the supermarket. Maria suggests that you confer with the driving instructor and ask what kind of practice they need. In her opinion it's best to pitch it at a level just below their last lesson, so they are consolidating skills, rather than attempting anything too tricky. She also suggests you try to vary the time of day and weather conditions so they face differing challenges - but only if your nerves can cope.

The driving test itself is harder than ever – most do not pass first time. So anyone who passes has a reasonable level of control of the car, but not much experience. It's horrifying to think that a new driver can zoom onto the motorway in a powerful car, never having negotiated even the slip road.

They've passed. Now what?

Passing the driving test is simply the beginning of a long road to being a safe driver. If you or they can ever afford the car insurance – think of a figure, double it and you might just be close – then there are things you can do to help their safety.

The most obvious is not to allow them to drive a car which is too powerful, even if they are covered by insurance. Some parents are calling for new laws to control what new drivers can do - whether that's not be allowed to drive a powerful car or take passengers. My popularity plummeted when I didn't allow my children to have passengers or be a passenger until the driver had 6 months' experience.

I am not alone. Alex described how her parents insisted, "I was not to have anyone in the car who was really drunk. I couldn't drive if I had any alcohol at all on the same day, or early in the morning after I'd been on a night out, and they didn't want me to drive on any motorways for a while."

If you are tempted to skimp on lessons, Maria is adamant that intensive week-long driving courses are not a good idea. "They teach you to pass your test but you need to have hours of practice to be a safe driver. They might be suitable for a learner who has had a break for several months and needs to get back into the swing of driving quickly."

Statistics show that anything in the car which distracts - a radio, passenger, a mobile phone ringing, or holding a conversation – increases the chances of an accident. Drink is obviously a huge no-no, and most young drivers are aware of this – but they should also switch their phones off or put them on silent.

Pass Plus

Pass Plus is not yet law - but could and should be. Once they have passed the test, Pass Plus is additional instruction to give driving practice on motorways, at night and in heavy traffic. There is also a call for insurance companies to take this into account – some do already, but it's not universal.

The benefits of teens' driving are obvious: Mum and Dad's taxi service is redundant; you can now have a drink in the evening. On the other hand you do realise, don't you, that this new-found freedom will be replaced by lying in bed waiting to hear the key in the lock and a silent "Phew, they're back safely."

Have you taught your teens to drive? How did it go? Are you enjoying the benefits of an older child driving, or is your heart in your mouth every time they are out?


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