Never lend your car to anyone to whom you have given birth. ~ Erma Bombeck
Is your teen ready to start behind-the-wheel driver education with you? Are you feeling lost and unsure where to start?
Teaching your teen to drive can be scary and intimidating. After all, it’s your baby who sits behind the wheel!
Those grab handles in your car? Those aren’t just for entering and exiting your vehicle; they’re for holding on for dear life, white-knuckled, while your teenager learns the ins and outs of the road. Kidding 🙂
Contrary to popular belief, getting in those temp hours doesn’t have to be painful. When you go about teaching your teen to drive in a systematic way, it can actually be fun [gasp]!
If you want to minimize stress as you teach your teen to handle a car, read on for a parent’s guide to teaching driving that is sure to make your parenting life easier.
Where to Start
Your teen finished the classwork portion of their driver education (step 1) and received their certificate of completion (step 2). At this point, they should be familiar with your state’s traffic laws.
Now it’s time for them to take their written exam (step 3). Once they pass it, they’ll be issued a temporary license.
A parent or legal guardian must oversee at least 50 hours of behind-the-wheel driving experience (step 4). This is in addition to the behind-the-wheel hours they must take through a high school or private driver training school (step 5).
In my home state of Ohio, teens are issued 50-hour driving forms that must be notarized upon completion. Check your own state’s laws regarding temporary driving hours requirements.
Your teen passed the written exam with flying colors and holds their temporary license. They’re excited and ready for you to teach them how to drive!
Teaching Your Teen to Drive: A Step-by-Step Checklist
Lesson #1: Getting Familiar with the Car & Dashboard
Before you even begin teaching your teen how to drive, you must show them the ins and outs of the vehicle they’ll be using for practice.
For sure, they’ll want to jump in headfirst and cruise around the neighborhood. Baby steps, kiddos!
Review the following:
- All dashboard features including cruise control, hazard lights, wipers, heat and air conditioning, etc.
- Mirror and seat adjustments
- All lights and turn signals
- Steering wheel and how to adjust it
- How to check the car’s tires and fluid levels
I recommend you select and print an online driving contract for your teen to read and sign. This is the perfect time to go over your expectations for them. Driving is a big responsibility. As parents, we all want to raise responsible, independent teenagers. More importantly, we want to keep them safe.
Lesson #2: Starting and Breaking
Take your teen to an empty parking lot. The bigger and emptier the better!
Ask them to practice starting and stopping at different speeds.
Any car manufactured after 2018 comes equipped with a backup or rearview camera. If your vehicle has rearview monitoring technology, use it to teach your teen how to back into a parking spot. You’d be surprised how difficult parking can be for them (even in an empty lot)!
This is a good time to teach them about blind spots as well. Learning spatial awareness while driving takes time.
Parent’s Guide to Teaching Driving Tip #1: Keep a log and record all of your teen’s driving hours. Use the Notes app on your phone if it helps you to stay organized. Set aside a folder specifically for your teen’s driving documents–certificates of completion, temporary license paperwork, and the affidavit.
Lesson #3: Lightly Traveled Residential Roads
Once your teen masters the starting and breaking they practiced in the empty parking lot, have them drive around your neighborhood (in circles if you must).
From there, branch out onto residential streets. Stick to roads with speeds slower than 45 mph. You can ask them to drive the same route again and again until they feel comfortable. Since they’re driving on familiar roads, they’ll be less likely to panic.
They must work on stopping distances and looking in all directions before proceeding at a traffic light or stop sign.
Lesson #4: Parking (every session!)
It’s helpful to build parking practice into every single one of your teen’s driving sessions. Ultimately, parking is one of the most stressful of all skills for a new driver.
Practice angling, straight in, backing in, and parallel parking.
You can call your local high school’s driver education program or private driving school and get a list of all the locations near you that have maneuverability cones set up permanently. For instance, we have three spots within a 10-mile radius of our home where my teen can practice parallel parking.
When you head to a maneuverability course with your teen, take a tape measure with you to ensure the cones are spaced apart as they will be for the driving exam. Cones shift and get moved on site.
Parent’s Guide to Teaching Driving Tip #2: It’s time to buy your teen a wallet for their new ID! That way, they can carry it on them at all times, making it accessible for impromptu practice driving sessions. Before we started our 50 hours with our eldest son, I bought him a new, well-constructed wallet, which he keeps in his backpack, so he’s always ready to go.
Lesson #5: Light Traffic Road Trip
It’s time to venture out beyond residential streets. But don’t get too crazy yet!
Start with a 30-40 minute session.
Ask your teen to run you on your errands. They’ll deal with more traffic that way.
Remember: The goal is not to overwhelm them; it’s to slowly ease them into more challenging driving situations.
Lesson #6: City Driving
Once your teen feels comfortable driving on residential roads, journey beyond to city driving. This can cause sensory overload for your teen, so be extremely patient. Allow for multiple sessions of city driving.
Pick areas that provide different situations, speeds, and traffic flow.
- Right and left turns
- Parking on a busy street and then pulling into traffic again
- Crossing busy intersections
- School zones
- Center turn lane situations
- One-way streets
Do these behind-the-wheel sessions at different times of the day so your teen gets how traffic conditions vary.
Parent’s Guide to Teaching Driving Tip #3: Ask your teen to drive you around on your errands. Have them refill the gas tank and clean the windshield. Go through a drive-thru and ask them to handle an order. The more you put them in real-life situations, the more familiar they’ll be when they’re on their own. This reduces possible panic situations.
Lesson #7: Highway Driving
Now that your teen has experience driving in higher traffic areas, it’s time to hit the interstate. In other words, add speed!
Highway driving requires several sessions. Take note of two-way rural highways, multi-lane highways, expressways, and interstates.
This is the perfect time to have your teen practice their GPS skills with whatever navigating system they’ll be using on their own once they complete their driver’s education. Take a road trip to visit a relative.
Focus on: entering and exiting a highway, paying tolls, blind spots, changing lanes, and maintaining the speed limit with cruise control.
Lesson #8: Night Driving & Inclement-Weather
The goal is to put your teen driver in all different situations so they’ll be safe once they’re driving independently. It’s your responsibility to teach them the driving skills they’ll need in life.
Take them out in the evening when it’s dark outside. They’ll be nervous at first.
Popular Mechanics has some handy driving at night tips you can show your teen. For instance, ask your teen to give your windshield a wipe with an old newspaper before they head out of the driveway. Streaks can cause glare, and one quick swipe with a newspaper can remove residue.
Remember to go over low and high beams and when to use them, adjustments of the rearview mirror, and various weather and road conditions during this time.
You should have at least 10 hours of nighttime driving with your teen.
As your teen gains experience and skills, ask them to practice in inclement weather. Stress the importance of slowing down and remaining vigilant!
If you live in the snow belt as we do, practice on snow-covered and icy roads is a must.
Parent’s Guide to Teaching Driving Tip #4: Teach them to change a tire or familiarize them with AAA if they have it. Make sure you go over what to do—pull over away from traffic and turn on hazard lights.
Lesson #9: Handling Emergencies
Go over what to do in the event of a crash. Locate the insurance information and the car’s emergency kit.
This is a good time to research insurance for your teen driver. Some insurers will want your teen added to your policy as soon as he or she obtains a temporary permit. Others require teens to be added once they reach licensing age.
Nerdwallet provides a comprehensive guide to car insurance and safe driving for teenagers.
Bonus Parent’s Guide to Teaching Driving Tips
- Be patient! Your teen will experience sensory overload, and you do not want to add to the stress of a new, scary situation. Don’t panic.
- Start with the basics and build from there. Provide simple instructions, so your teen has time to understand and prepare. On the same note, provide them with solid cues like “ease off the gas and begin to brake” or “start slowing because we are going to make a right turn.”
- Put your teen in real-life situations, so they’re familiar when they’re out on their own.
- Teach them basic car maintenance like oil changes.
- Practice your own good driving habits. You’ll soon learn that you have a backseat driver with you. My teen likes to point out when I haven’t made a complete stop or when I speed through a yellow light. Follow the rules, and lead by example!
- Ask around for recommendations for a quality driver training school.
- Be positive around your teen! Tell them what they did well and follow it up with lesson plans for the future.
It seems silly to read a parent’s guide to teaching driving for teens; doesn’t it? You’ve been doing this for ages. I assure you it can be an overwhelming process.
My 16-year-old son takes his driver’s test in a few weeks. For us, it’s been a learning process, especially since he is our first to go through driver’s ed. When I went to do some online research on how to approach the many lessons of behind-the-wheel hours, I felt the information out there was either lacking or too detailed.
Use the lessons above as an outline for driving lessons for your teenager. Approaching this task in a systematic fashion ensures 1) you cover all the driving basics; 2) your teen feels confident in their skills and ability, and 3) you reduce the stress of this parenting stage.
Best of luck teaching your teen to drive!
Comment below if you have any pointers to add to the list!