Teaching a Teen to Drive
Are you a parent wondering how to teach a teen to drive?
Do you know the best way to teach your child to drive?
Would a “teaching someone to drive checklist” be helpful as you prepare your teen to be alone behind the wheel?
Driving is a rite of passage from childhood dependence to adult responsibility. But in order to receive a driver’s license in VA, teens must first learn to drive and practice driving for 45 hours.
In Virginia, parents are often the ones teaching their kids to drive. However, this is a big responsibility and parents may not be the best teacher for this situation. Parents are accustomed to controlling the factors that affect their children’s safety; but in a driving situation, the person behind the wheel is (and needs to be) in control.
Parents may know how to drive but may not know how to teach a teen to drive.
As a mother of four adults and owner of a private, DMV-approved driving school in Richmond, VA, I’ve gained a lot of experience teaching kids to drive. I also know how dangerous it can be.
My eldest daughter almost drove into a ditch because she couldn’t judge the position of the car. Later, the same daughter drove our family van straight across train tracks without ever noticing the flashing red lights warning of an oncoming train. I’ve learned a lot since then.
For the lion-hearted parents determined to teach their teens to drive, I’d like to share some tips for teaching a teenager to drive.
In this blog post, I’ll share my professional tips for parents teaching driving and let you know the top skills to practice for driving. I’ll also introduce what I believe to be the best way to teach a teenager to drive.
Keep reading to learn all about how to teach your teen to drive.
The Top 3 Tips for How to Teach a Teen to Drive
Are you ready to learn how to teach your teen to drive?
Here are my top three professional “teaching your child to drive tips” to help you teach your son or daughter to drive.
1. Spend Extensive Time in the Parking Lot
My first tip for how to teach your kid to drive is practice in a parking lot for at least three, 45-minute sessions.
This may sound like a lot, but the first mistake parents usually make is to underestimate the danger of allowing a novice to drive on public roads without first thoroughly confirming their ability to handle a car. You may be surprised by how many skills can, and should, be mastered before driving on the road.
Remember, the driving skills that have become natural to you are completely new to your teenager. Parking lots provide a low-pressure environment to practice beginner driving skills and get comfortable behind the wheel of a car.
While in the parking lot, some skills to practice for driving before hitting the open road include:
- Adjusting and using their side and rear view mirrors
- Starting the car smoothly and coming to gentle stops
- Driving consistently on the right side of the road
- Making precise right and left turns into the correct side of the lane in the parking lot
- Pulling into parking spaces and stopping so the car is straight and centered
- Backing out of parking spaces and positioning the vehicle in the desired direction
Again, I recommend parents spend at least three 45-minute practice sessions in a parking lot before progressing to any other kind of driving. These practice sessions will allow foundational skills to become more natural and unconscious.
Once kids learning to drive have mastered the parking lot, you can make the move to public roads and introduce new skills.
2. Build Skills Sequentially and Slowly
Tip number two in our “teaching someone to drive checklist” is teaching kids to drive sequentially and slowly on public roads.
You don’t want to go straight from a parking lot to a crowded highway with a 65 mph speed limit, or to a curvy back road with no lines. Instead, you want to start simple and build skills gradually from easiest to most difficult.
Not sure how to teach your teen to drive this way?
Here’s a general driving progression you can follow, and some of the skills to practice for driving on various kinds of roads.
1. Neighborhoods / Back Roads
- How to turn right and left at intersections with and without stop signs
- Right of way on back roads
- Placement of the car on roads with and without out lines painted on the pavement (SPOILER ALERT! Experienced drivers aim for the middle of the road on back roads that have no lines, and keep their car a fixed distance from the double yellow if there is a double yellow.)
- Curb parking within 6 to 12 inches from the curb
- The ability to know where your car is in space with respect to lines in front, back and to the sides of the vehicle
2. Easy Main Roads
- Lane changing procedure (Hint: Experienced drivers check their mirrors first, THEN signal, check their blind spot, and change lanes. Beginners usually signal first, then begin to check mirrors.)
- The ability to know how far back a car is based on how it looks in a mirror
- Correct response to signs and traffic signals
- Right of way in a variety of intersections
- Right turn on red after stop
- Use of a shared left turning lane to get onto and off of main roads
3. High-Speed Main Roads
- Lane changing at high speeds (It takes only a little steering input to make a “straight line lane change” at higher speeds – different from the feel of changing lanes at slow speeds.)
- Merging (for itself, and in preparation for highway entrance ramps)
- Traffic Circles
- Defensive driving practices to protect yourself and others
- Gaining sufficient speed on an entrance ramp to merge onto the highway
- Merging onto the highway
- Using mirrors to merge and change lanes
- Understanding which lane to use and for what purpose
- Identifying your location if your car breaks down on the highway
- Using exit ramps appropriately
5. City Driving
- Signs and situations that are primarily common in cities (e.g., one way streets, roundabouts, all-way stop signs etc.)
- Unique challenges of finding and fitting into city parking (i.e., parallel parking)
For each of these sets of skills, I recommend you give your student at least two hours of practice time over multiple driving lessons before moving forward. Repeating the same maneuvers many times is crucial for gaining familiarity and confidence. Taking it slow and solidifying skills before adding new topics is the single best way to prevent an accident while the teenager is learning to drive.
3. Respect Your Child as an Adult
The most difficult person in the world to teach is your own child. Parents are used to controlling their child’s behavior, particularly when it comes to safety.
But driving is an adult activity and the person behind the wheel is in control of the vehicle, not the parent/passenger. For a parent to be an effective driving instructor, they need to respect and see their child as an adult while their child is behind the wheel.
Parents seeing their children as adults helps in two ways:
- It creates an unsafe environment for a parent to micromanage the driver, especially when the instructions are combined with high levels of emotion, like fear. If you’ve already taken time to build skills in safe, low-stress environments (like a parking lot), then it will be easier to stay calm in more dangerous situations.
- Additionally, for a teenager to truly learn how to drive and receive your feedback well, they need to know that you see them as an adult. If you do, they will rise to your expectations and benefit from your instruction (at least for the most part!).
And if you’re wondering how to start interacting with your child as an adult, here are some of my tips:
- Anticipate dangers and discuss them calmly before you reach them
- Let the student do everything they can do safely (e.g.,. pumping gas, checking tire pressure, checking oil, etc.)
- Discuss the financial responsibilities of car ownership
- Stay calm and composed when in the car
Ultimately, the right of passage of driving can help your child to grow up; but for that to happen, you have to let go of seeing them as a child.
My Top Tip for Teaching Kids to Drive
If you have kids, it’s likely they’ll learn to drive in their teenage years (or are already learning!). It’s also likely that you’ll be the one responsible for teaching them to drive.
Do you know how to teach a teen to drive?
Do you know what to teach a new driver?
Are you looking for a new driver checklist, or for tips on how to teach your teen to drive?
In this article, I shared tips from what I’ve learned over 15 years of teaching teenagers how to drive. These tips included:
- Spending time in a parking lot learning basic driving skills
- Building skills sequentially and slowly
- Respecting your child as an adult
But teaching someone to drive is a big responsibility and can be a dangerous process. At the same time, learning to drive well is very important. The habits your teenager establishes while learning to drive will impact their safety throughout their lifetime of driving.
For these reasons, I think hiring a professional, private instructor is the best way to teach a teenager to drive.
Whether you want your teenager to learn all aspects of driving, or you simply want to make sure your child knows exactly what skills to practice for the driving test, driving instructors specialize in laying a good foundation. They ensure safety throughout the process from the passenger side of the car while building skills thoroughly to prepare your teenager for all driving scenarios.
Here at Colonial Driving School in Colonial Heights, Virginia, we have an excellent private lessons program. Over the past 10 years of working with students of all ages and ability levels, we’ve developed and perfected a highly efficient process of driving instruction. Our private lessons equip students with all the vehicle handling skills and road practice they need to be able to safely and appropriately navigate back roads, main streets, city situations, and highways. With a five-lesson package, most students can go from total beginner to ready to have their driver’s license in two weeks time.