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Life With A Learner Driver

For some time now, my teenage son has had his learner’s licence and the blue-tack holding the L-plates to the back and front windows is starting to get a bit the worse for wear.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were having to explain which pedal was which…

learner-parent1Most of us who have teenagers go through the journey of watching them progress through the licenses and become fully fledged motorists.  It’s quite an emotional roller coaster – and some journeys feel physically like a roller coaster, too.  However, in spite of what it can do to your stress levels at times, I recommend that parents encourage children to get their drivers’ licences early on.  Not only does it suddenly make your kids grow up and learn some responsibility but it also saves hassles later on.  If you’d seen one of my friend’s daughters wind up as a young mother with no driver’s licence, or if you’d seen one of my other friends constantly ferrying around a teenage boy who prefers a gaming console to a steering wheel, you’d feel that way too.

The first few forays out in the car are always amusing.  For once, your teenager will be listening carefully to everything you say and will (for once) act like they don’t know everything.  This phase, which usually takes place on quiet roads, involves stalling, lurching and incorrect gear selection, plus the odd near miss as your teenager realises that you have to start braking earlier in the picture than you do with computer driving games.

Then you teen will master the basics and will get back to thinking that he/she knows it all.  The times that you are driving, you will wish that you had duct tape handy, as you will have the world’s worst back seat driver on board who will tell you exactly what they would have done and ask why you’re not going at the full speed limit at the moment (when it’s raining cats and dogs late at night and the road is flooded so you can barely see the white lines in the middle).  This is where you grit your teeth and explain why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Are you familiar with the phrase “teachable moment”?

During this phase, you’ve got to teach them as much as you can.  Let them learn good habits.  You shouldn’t stop riding with them altogether during the provisional stage, as they’re still inexperienced, but you still need to make the most of the learner phase to ensure that the next generation of drivers has decent skills, by trying things like the following:

  • Drop your teens in the deep end.  You don’t have to be quite as vicious as my husband was, getting our son to do his first parallel parking manoeuvre between an expensive new Audi and an equally expensive new Jaguar , but make them do the difficult stuff.
  • Hand the keys over as much as possible.  Yes, you like to drive.  However, your teenager needs the practice, so give them all the chances they can get.
  • When you are in the driver’s seat, model good driving etiquette and attitude.  Would you want your teenager going just a shade over the speed limit and trying to nip into small gaps because he/she is running late?  Would you want him/her leaning on the horn at the slightest provocation?  Trying to just nip through on an orange light?  Checking the cell phone while driving just for a few wee seconds because this text might be important?  You get the picture…

There’s also one very important thing that you need to do:

  • Get them driving in a car with as few driver aids as possible.  These days, you can buy cars with blind spot monitoring, warnings about things approaching from the side, cameras all over the show to help you park, collision protection that automatically jams on the brakes if it detects that a ding is likely and so on.  My own inner alarm bells are going off to think that some teenagers are learning to drive in cars like these.  Of course, we want to protect our beloved sons and daughters and make sure that they’re safe.  However, if they’re always driving a car that does a lot of the work for them, they’re going to learn to rely on these driver aids.  They won’t know how to do it the hard way.  The time will come when they buy their own cars… which will probably be older models that don’t have all these active safety features.  And they will probably be driving them solo.  Scary stuff.  Beeping noises don’t have the same impact on behaviour as much as “What the heck were you doing? You nearly hit that car/truck/person!  You’re supposed to turn your head and check the blind spot before you change lanes!  Don’t you ever do that again!  I want to see your head turning to check.  Let’s try that one again.”

Safe and happy driving for you and your teenagers,