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Should You Teach Your L-Plater To Drive?

driver ed 4It’s a scary moment in any parent’s life: the moment your teenager first gets their learner’s licence and you stick the L-plates on the car so you can set off on that first rather tentative drive around the block. It happened to us last week. It wasn’t as scary as it could have been. But that may have been because we were in the automatic Ford. Behind the wheel of my husband’s manual Nissan work ute things may well be different.

Not all teenagers are the same behind the wheel when they first get there. Some are tentative and nervous and just about freak out as soon as the needle creeps over 30. Others are the reverse and go at everything like a bull at a gate, making the hapless parent in the front seat long for a set of dual controls like a professional driving coach and sit there with their hand on the handbrake just in case. (Not for them the sort of “handbrake” you find in some of the new Infiniti models: it’s operated by the driver’s foot. However, most of us probably wouldn’t put a teenager behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle for the first drive just in case.) Others take it in their stride, especially if they’ve had a go behind the wheel in fields, riverbeds or just up and down the driveway.

The question has to be asked: should parents teach their children to drive? There are pros and cons to teaching your own teenager to drive, and you have to consider both.

On the con side, if a parent has bad driving habits, these will be passed on to the next generation (see the earlier post by one of my fellow-bloggers on this topic).  Driving teachers are able to pass on correct habits – well, at least they should.  What’s more, when parents teach teenagers to drive, things can get emotional the way they don’t get with a driving coach. The driving coach has only seen your teenager as a young person of 16 or so. You, however, can still remember seeing your kid as a four-year-old just about whizzing onto the road on a tricycle.  It cuts the other way, too, as your teenager might still be grumpy at you about some domestic issue when he/she gets behind the wheel. There’s no emotional baggage or contempt bred by familiarity with a driving coach.

Defensive driving courses are excellent, but they can backfire a little on nervous nellies. All that talk about how to get yourself out of a hairy situation can produce a sort of road paranoia, where every single other driver is perceived to be heartless monster who is out to Get You. Some of those road safety messages and stats might make a sensitive teenager too scared to get behind the wheel just in case.

On the other hand, a teenager can get a lot more practice in if parents take the opportunity to give their L-plater the wheel as often as possible. With a driving coach, there are bookings and budgets to consider. Few driving coaches offer night driving skills or long-haul driving skills, but handing your teenager the wheel for a shift while driving interstate will provide these opportunities. The other thing about teaching your teenager to drive is that it’s one of the few areas these days where parents can and do pass on skills to the next generation.  The flip side of that is that a know-it-all teenager is put in the position where they are forced to realise that they don’t know it all and that the olds actually do have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Car-KeysSo should you teach your L-plater to drive or should you leave it all up to the professionals?  I say yes, teach them, although a few lessons from a professional certainly wouldn’t do any harm.  Good, if anything.  I’d keep the following guidelines in mind, though:

  • Don’t make/let your teenager drive if either of you is in a snot.
  • Don’t micromanage every single metre of the drive or every single intersection. Give guidance only when you need to. This will change as time goes by as your teenager picks up more skills.
  • Do provide a variety of contexts for your teenager to drive in, rather than just handing him/her the wheel during the easy bits.
  • Do stay focussed, even if your teenager appears to be a confident driver.
  • Do be prepared with soothing words of encouragement for nervous drivers or a ready hand on the handbrake for the charging bulls.
  • Do teach good driving habits!

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