We frequently get mails from parents asking us how best to go about teaching their teenager to drive. Parents of 18- and 19-year-olds eager to get behind the wheel, are a worried bunch. It’s easy to understand their concern since India has the dubious distinction of being the nation with one of the highest road fatalities in the world. Every year, we lose around 1,40,000 people due to road accidents. One of the biggest contributors to this number is poorly trained drivers, the very people around you, whom you trust to keep you safe.
Parents usually prefer sending their teenager to a driving school where he or she can learn some basic driving skills. However, driving schools don’t always do a thorough job. Also, kids grow up watching their parents drive and are more likely to emulate their habits. By taking an active role in teaching your teenager to drive and by sharing your experience and knowledge, you can make them better and safer drivers.
However, trying to teach your teenager how to drive can be an unnerving task. Playing the role of a coach is not easy and requires proper planning. Imparting good driving skills goes beyond teaching the basics like steering control, parking the car and driving on the highway. Parents need to develop their teenage driver’s ability to spot potential dangers, tricky situations and stay out of harm’s way.
Your goals as driving coach
You need to plan a step by step approach. First find an empty parking lot to practice the basics, later move on to traffic free roads and only drop them in the ‘deep end’ when you are confident.
Seated in the passenger seat, it is easy to notice the mistakes being made by the driver and point them out. For the teen in the driver’s seat, it is simply annoying to be shouted instructions at. Instead of reminding your teen that they need to improve their road skills, help them become aware and comfortable behind the wheel.
Treat your teen as an adult. Explain why they need to remain alert at all times.
Instead of saying things like “You are crazy to be driving at this speed. Do you know what speed we are at?”, try conveying the same message with a different approach. Ask them, “Do you know how much distance you will need to come to a stop from this speed?” Make them realise that they must be cautious as a jaywalker could hop out of nowhere, leading to an accident or a fatality.
A beginner will take time to learn how to drive smoothly. Do not get impatient and talk rudely to your teen. Avoid passing comments like, “You are taking too much time to learn” or “You need to focus more to get it right”. Instead of harping on their weak areas, praise them when they perform well, like indicating before taking a turn.
Rather than preaching your teen about driving slowly, let them drive fast in your presence. It is akin to letting your teen have his or her first drink with you. It is better to let them come to terms with their sense of speed under your guidance rather than with a bunch of enthusiastic friends, who lack the judgement that you have. Here’s a list of ten essential things that you should teach your teenager to make them a skillful driver.
Identifying the real road hazards
At times, parents tend to focus too much on areas which were a problem for them when they were beginning to drive, like parking in a tight spot. Most road casualties don’t take place while trying to park the car. Parents should give utmost importance to educating their teens on how to spot potential road hazards that are life threatning. Your teen needs to develop the ability to analyse different situations, make correct judgments and respond accordingly. This is much better than letting them rely on the traditional trial and error method of learning, which is all we have here.
Teach your teen about situational awareness. Explain why they must constantly observe all sides of the vehicle and check the rear view mirrors before they move. They need to look beyond the cars ahead to gauge upcoming dangers. Teach them to watch out for things like brake lights glowing in the distance, which means it’s time to start slowing down. Tell them to be wary of parked vehicles that could pull out without warning. Also, children may appear suddenly from behind parked cars.
Your teen needs to watch out for parked vehicles that could pull out suddenly.
Maintaining safe distance
Rather than just advising that one should maintain a two to three-second gap between their vehicle and the one in front, explain why. Let them understand that following traffic too closely restricts their ability to see ahead. It also reduces their reaction time to the actions of other drivers. If the vehicle in front brakes suddenly, they too will need to do the same.
Slow down for intersections
In the beginning, teen drivers tend to overlook the potential dangers that lurk around at intersections and end up driving fast through them. Explain to your teen that some of the worst road accidents take place at intersections. It is a place where pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles are likely to do something that is totally unexpected. So, they should slow down
and look out for other vehicles even when they have the right of way. A vehicle might fail to stop in time at the traffic light resulting in a collision.
Reducing speed before entering a corner
Similar to intersections, teens also tend to drive fast into corners. Make them understand that a curve could be the start of a longer turn which might get too sharp midway. Hence, one should slow down well before entering the corner and accelerate only after exiting it. Also, help them realise that speed limits exist for ideal conditions and they need to slow down when there is fog or rain.
Indicating before making a manoeuvre
While driving on public roads, one ends up sharing road space with other vehicles. So, make your teen understand that sudden directional changes are one of the biggest causes of road accidents. Talk your teen into inculcating a habit of always indicating first before taking a turn. Indicating before making a manoeuvre reduces a driver’s chances of causing, or getting involved in an accident. Similarly, explain why they should make other vehicles aware about their intention of coming to a stop by feathering the brake pedal a few times before they start braking.
Look out for blind spots
A blind spot is an area around the vehicle which cannot be seen directly by the driver due to certain obstacles, like thick A-pillars which obstruct the view while driving. Adjusting to blind spots and learning how to work around them takes time. Explain to your teen that apart from relying on the wing mirrors, it is important to turn their head and have a quick glance around the car before taking a turn or changing lanes. Also, rear headrests and small bags placed on the rear parcel tray can hamper visibility.
Thick A-pillars can create blindspots that can hide a bike if moving at the same speed as you.
Overtaking and changing lanes
Judging traffic gaps correctly and executing an overtaking manoeuvre safely seems like a challenging task for a teen driver. Explain to them that before overtaking, they should ensure that the road ahead is clear of vehicles and another vehicle is not about to pass you. While overtaking, they shouldn’t get too close to the vehicle and get past it quickly. Let your teen driver first practice overtaking and changing lanes on a multiple lane road, with no traffic.
Exposure to different conditions
Most parents tend to be overprotective about their kids and allow them to get behind the wheel only during daytime when the hazards are less. This does more harm than good. Ensure you expose your teenager to different conditions like driving in the night and through poor weather. This will make him or her aware about different conditions and confident of driving through them. Allow them to experience how the glare of oncoming vehicles and reduced visibility makes driving at night a lot more challenging. Similarly, during heavy rains, chances of the vehicle skidding are a lot more.
Lead by example
It is essential to practice what you preach because your teen is likely to look up to you as their role model. When you are driving with your teen, ensure that both hands remain on the steering wheel at all times and mobile phones remain out of sight. Your teen will learn faster if you make them feel comfortable and boost their confidence. Remember, even you took time to get acquainted with the task of driving a vehicle. So refrain from getting overly critical of what your teen does behind the wheel.
Help your teen get better behind the wheel by sharing your knowledge and experience. Treat your teen as an adult. Instead of talking down to them, engage them in a chat and help them get comfortable and confident. Explain to them that driving is a highly enjoyable activity, but being careless can result in loss of life. Teaching your teen to drive can be a daunting experience; charting out a plan and following the simple steps listed above will help your teen develop essential skills that he or she actually needs to avoid accidents.