A Parent’s Guide to Driver’s Ed

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For some parents, the thought of their teenager getting their license is exciting and freeing. Others may panic at the prospect of teaching their kids how to drive.

Either way, as parents, it’s important to teach your child proper driving technique and etiquette. Teaching them yourself will ensure they are learning the right skills and provide you the opportunity to build trust and a deeper bond with your child.

Regardless of whether your teen driver has to take a state-sanctioned Driver’s Ed course or not, learn how you can set them up for success. In this guide, we’ll discuss a few key supervised driving basics you should pass on to your teen driver, including how to:

  • Properly plan before grabbing the keys.
  • Discuss proper driving technique and etiquette.
  • Demonstrate proper driving technique and etiquette.
  • Be a great role model for your new driver.

Before Driver's Ed: The Preparation

One of the most important (and overlooked) tips when your teen is of driving age is proper preparation.

Before sending your teen to Driver's Ed, or after when you’d like to provide some of your own instruction, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “Is my teen ready to drive?

If you can honestly answer “yes,” to that question, it’s time to:

  • Locate a suitable spot.
    In the beginning, you’ll want to choose a spot that’s easy to drive in. Try to avoid roadways with traffic congestion, high speeds, and construction zones.
  • Create a parent-teen driving contract.
    Disagreements will be inevitable—and stressful—while teaching your teen to drive. However, a parent-teen driving contract can help mitigate this. Create an agreement listing how you and your teen driver should act towards each other before, during, and after driving lessons.
  • Know the risks.
    It’s important to familiarize yourself with the risks associated with teen drivers, which include immaturity, risky behavior, and distractions. There are a few specific driving mistakes teens make that you should also be aware of.

Once you’ve planned and prepared, it’s time to have a discussion with your teen.

Discussing Key Driving Basics

Before letting your teen get behind the wheel, you should go over traffic laws, driving techniques, and etiquette. Often, these basics are covered on Driver’s Ed courses, but it never hurts to brush up on the material, yourself.

You can start by reading over the driver’s handbook for your state with your teen driver, and even test your and your teen’s knowledge through online practice tests. Take some time to discuss the most important points, and answer any of your child’s questions.

While your teen is enrolled in Driver’s Ed, you can reinforce the rules and safe-driving habits they are learning by asking questions of your own. When your teen is able to adequately explain driving laws and techniques, they stand a much better chance of retaining the information. Remember—it’s not just about passing the test: Driving is a vital skill they will need to learn and develop for the rest of their lives.

If you want more information on how to discuss driving technique with your child, read our article How to Teach Your Teen Road Safety.

Demonstrate Proper Driving Technique

Adult showing a teenage how to drive.
The phrase "Do as I say, not as I do," doesn't necessarily apply to teaching your teen how to drive a car. They will pick up, and most likely take on, the same driving habits you do.

One of the best ways to teach your teenager how to drive is to demonstrate proper driving techniques while they are in the car. In fact, any time you spend chauffeuring your teenager can double as an impromptu driving lesson. By explaining your decisions, the steps you take to drive safely in real time, you can schedule in practice time without going out of your way.

For example, you can explain, “I’m turning right at the light ahead, so I’m going to turn on my signal now.” Or you can say, “I see traffic slowing ahead, so I’ll begin slowing now to avoid slamming on my brakes.”

These mini lessons create numerous opportunities to see if your teen has any questions.

Be a Good Role Model

It’s important to remember that while your teen is training for their driver’s test that they’ll be watching you very closely.

It’s not enough to simply warn your child of the dangers of distracted driving: You have to lead and teach by example.

That means not talking on your cellphone or engaging in any sort dangerous driving behaviors behind the wheel. Doing so may lead your teen to think, “If my parent does it, why can’t I?”

Start Slow... Really Slow

Now that you’ve made preparations and had discussions with your teen, they’re finally ready to jump behind the wheel.

If they have already taken Driver’s Ed classes, they’ll have the basic understanding of how the process of driving works. If not, be prepared for more time, questions, and practice.

It’s best not to have them start driving in a crowded or busy street. Start by taking them to an uncrowded parking lot. Here, they can get comfortable behind the wheel and learn the basics such as accelerating, braking, turning, and shifting gears (if applicable).

In addition, they can practice going in reverse and parking without the worry of hitting another car or curbs.

Once your teen has proven some basic driving capabilities (along with some common sense) you can allow them to go into more difficult driving conditions. This might mean working their way up from the parking lot to neighborhoods, to city streets, to the fast-paced freeways.

Many states’ Driver’s Ed programs include driving lessons with professional driving instructors. Their teacher may notice bad habits or minor problems with your teen’s driving you may miss. Ask your teen about things their instructor pointed out during these sessions and pay special attention to them while your teen is behind the wheel.

In Summary

Getting a license is an exciting and magical time for your teen. The fact you’re taking the time to learn more about teaching your child how to drive already shows they’re in good hands.

By keeping these best practices in mind and educating yourself on local driving laws, your teen will be on the road, safely driving in no time. 

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