How to Teach Your Teen to Drive Without Pulling Out All Your Hair

By Alex Perdikis

If the thought of teaching your teen to drive sends you into a tailspin, you’re not alone. Thousands of parents each year undergo the experience of supervising teen driving practice for the 40 hours or more of required by law. Few go into it without at least a slight shaking in their boots, though.

In the good old days, schools handled the teen “learning to drive” conundrum. But driver’s education fell by the wayside for most schools due to cost trimming and budget cuts. Times changed and now, as your teen’s parent, it’s up to you.

How can you prepare for the rough road ahead without losing your cool? Follow these practical tips.

You Can Do It But Should You?

Teens aged 16 to 19 commit the highest numbers of traffic violations of any age group. They’re also involved in the more wrecks than any other age group. That’s why most states require that teen drivers complete a state-approved driver’s education course. Check with your state for specific requirements and choose only an approved school.  

Driver’s education courses offer additional benefits as well.

“Many insurance companies offer a rate reduction for teens after they successfully complete an accredited course.” — Alex Perdikis

A driver’s ed course doesn’t involve risk to your own vehicle, is often a fast-track licensing path, and is a better overall educational experience than you alone can provide.

Driving course requirements aside, extra practice makes better drivers. That’s where you com in. You’re a good driver. You’ve been doing it for years. You know the laws. You’ve experienced the rough, tough and unexpected. You can do this! But, should you do it?

Great question. Everyone, including you, expects you to do it. But, did you know that may not be the best thing for you, your child and your relationship?

Here’s what you need to think about before you decide:

  • Your current relationship: Teens test boundaries. Teenagers rebel. Kids strain a parent’s patience. It’s their job at this age. Is sitting in a confined space while trying to go over the finer points of driving a good situation for either of you?
  • Your personalities: Are you a Type-A personality? Does your high-energy style mesh with your teen’s? Is your teen nervous? Does your child lack confidence? Honestly evaluate your differences and decide if you’re the best driving coach for your teen.
  • Your vehicle: Your car doesn’t have that brake on the passenger side. If your kid makes a mistake, your options to intervene are limited.

Take an objective look at yourself, your child and your circumstances. If you don’t feel comfortable sitting with your teen in practice sessions, don’t do it. Perhaps another experienced member of the family can step in.

Before You Go…

OK, you’ve thought and thought and think you can handle it. In fact, you’re looking forward to those precious bonding and teaching moments with your teen. Before you jump in that car, make sure you’re covered both legally and financially.

Check the laws in your state to see what your teen needs to do to practice driving legally. Each state is different. Look online for your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website and make sure your teen is legal before you both hop in the car for practice.

Check your insurance policy. Give your agent a call and make sure you’re covered. If you’re not, add coverage. Sure, it’s going to cost you, but if your practicing teen cause injuries or damages, you’re going to pay even more.

It’s time for a refresher course — not for your teen, but for you!  Laws change. Memories fail. Look at your state DMV website for information or visit your local office for a current Rules of the Road. How can you teach your child driving laws if you don’t know them yourself?

Be a great example. You should have been a great example all along. If your teen has seen you “almost” stop at a stop sign or observed you going over the speed limit, what do you think they’re going to do?

Buckle Up!

Your teen’s legal, covered and ready to go. Take a deep breath, get in the car and buckle up. Then do this:

  1. Sit and review: Go over how to use the dashboard features, seat adjusters, steering wheel and mirrors, headlights, wipers, lights, emergency brake, accelerator and brakes. Learn what the warning indicator lights mean. Make sure your teen knows where the car’s registration and insurance information is kept.
  2. Head to an empty parking lot:  After arrival, switch places. Give your teen time to adjust the seat and steering wheel and let them start the car. Let your teen practice accelerating, braking, driving straight and backing up. Add additional exercises, such as making turns and parking as your child gains mastery over each skill.
  3. Begin road driving in light-traffic areas: Practice staying in lanes, stopping at stop signs, anticipating cars exiting driveways and looking out for children and animals who might dash into the road.
  4. Up the ante as your child becomes skilled: To become a great driver, your teen needs to practice driving in all types of weather and road conditions. If possible, take practice drives in the rain, fog or snow; at night; and in heavy traffic.
  5. Advance to highway driving: Practice merging, passing, following at a safe distance, maintaining proper speed and behaving courteously.
  6. Practice, practice and practice: Practice in any and all conditions.

Before you know, your child is ready to take the test. And that’s when the real worries begin!

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.