Teaching Your Kid To Drive

November 22, 2009


Any parent who has tried to play driving instructor quickly knows what a challenge it can be.  Most parents settle for sending their kid to drivers ed, or signing them up at the nearest driving school.  And rightly so, if they do not have the temperament for it.

 That said, if you go in with a few ground rules, it can be a great experience which you will both look back at fondly, and you may even wind up creating a much better driver than even the pros can.

The first thing you want to do is to realize that your student, especially if they are related, or young, or all of the above, is traumatized from the get go. You, on the other hand, are worried about your lives, your car, and your patience in that order.

So how do we fix this? By deciding up front that you are not going to yell, put down, or speak sarcastically to your student. It not only doesnt help, it may keep them from learning anything, other than the fact that they dont want to do this. Wrong lesson.

How do you keep calm? Easy. Start by locating a large, deserted parking lot for the lessons. Not only will this keep your protégé from hitting something, it may keep you from hitting the roof as well.

Like any good teacher, figure out exactly what you are going to do before you get there.

For example, you can have him or her do backward figure eights, which will enable them to become as skilled going in reverse as in drive. This is also great practice for using mirrors, both rear and side.

Make sure they are not just turning their head, but learn to gauge distance this way. My wife was taught this way by her dad, and can back up a steep curved driveway just using the mirrors to this day better than most cab drivers.

For parking, lay out something to represent two cars one that is in front of the target parking space and one that is in back of it.  Long boxes can be used, or anything that is at least three feet in height so it can be seen by your kid.

Most people can pull into a vertical space without too much practice. Parallel parking is another thing. By practicing with stand-ins for cars, the fear of hitting something is gone and your kid can focus on getting the angle and timing right.

Unless your kid will be driving a Lexus 460 or other self-parking feature, they will have to learn to do it, so you might as well teach them now.  While youre at it, take a moment and explain the K-Turn, which is a piece of cake by comparison, but I have even seen some adults botch this.

By botched I mean they saw back and forth six times, when once or twice would have sufficed to turn them around.

Learning to shift a manual is also challenging. If possible do not have them do this on your new Lotus. In any case, do not have them shift while driving until they are comfortable doing it while the car is parked. Another way to instill confidence, and possibly save your clutch and avoid grinding gears. They may never drive a stick shift, but if they have to, at least they can.

No doubt you want to instill the idea that texting, or calling on the phone, etc. is a bad thing. The lecture may or may not take. You can however, demonstrate the consequences of inattention in that same empty parking lot. Set up a box to represent another car or pedestrian.

Now, while they are driving, have them text or reach for something and see the dawning of comprehension when they hit it. It is one thing to be told something is a bad idea, quite another to experience it. 

Having friends or acquaintances driving their car is also a no-no. Perhaps you can role play before you end the lesson and exit the parking lot. You take the wheel and drive around in some crazy manner until your kid freaks out just a little. Then stop the car, and explain, this is what he or she could be in for if they let someone else drive their car.

That person could be on something, or just a bad driver, or in a really bad mood. Let them know if they are ever really angry or depressed, or tired, or out of it, that behind the wheel is the last place they want to be.

Now, before you leave, tell them what a great job they did and how much better they are getting. Even if it did not go all that well. Especially if they struggled. People can do anything if they believe in themselves. We all were in their shoes once. Be kind.

Common sense gleaned over a lifetime that, and some hard won self confidence and skill is what you will have passed on.
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