6 tips for parents on how to teach young drivers

Korrena Bailie

teach young driversLearning to drive is a major milestone for most teens -- but it can be a stressful time for their parents. By instilling safe habits early on, parents can help protect the wellbeing of their teen drivers and set them up with good driving habits for life.

David Fresquez, owner of LTD Driving School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, parents are waiting longer to teach their kids how to drive. "Parents are more watchful now," Fresquez says, adding that today's parents frequently choose to drive their kids to activities rather than allowing the teens to drive themselves because they feel like their kid will stay safer this way.

But there are things that parents can do to help their kid become safe and independent on the road.

6 ways a parent can help their teen become a safe driver

1. Be a good example.

Fresquez says that the single most important thing any parent can do is set a good example for their teens.

"Kids really reflect who they've watched driving," he says. "(They'll) emulate behaviors like talking on the phone, texting or speeding."

According to a 2012 study released by Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), a student safety advocacy group, and Liberty Mutual Insurance, 66 percent of teens said believed that their parents observed different driving rules than they expected from their children. This "do as I say, not as I do" policy may undermine the parent / teen driving relationship.

You can set a good example by practicing safe driving habits. Keep both hands on the wheel, obey posted speed limits, signal appropriately and avoid distractions.

2. Cut down on distractions

When it's time to drive with your kids, be responsible and cut down on driving distraction. Some ways to do this include:

  • Turn off the car radio.
  • Turn off your cellphone while on the road, or put it on silent.
  • Don't eat or drink while driving.

Fresquez says cellphones are the source of the biggest distractions facing teens on the road. According to the SADD / Liberty Mutual study, 90 percent of teens surveyed said they talked on a cellphone while driving. And nearly 80 percent of teens reported texted while driving.

One way parents can ensure their teen is free from cellphone distractions is to install a safety app on their kid's cellphone that will disable the phone when the teen is driving, such as Sprint's Drive First or Textecution.

3. Teach your child to drive under many different conditions.

According to the New York DMV, teens are most likely to get into an auto accident within the first 12 months of receiving their license. This is due to inexperience: Until a driver has encountered specific conditions, they won't know how to react to them properly.

A 2013 AAA study found that only 25 percent of parents make a concentrated effort to teach their teens to drive under a variety of conditions, and few parents focus on advanced driving techniques.

4. Schedule your time to drive together more often.

You can give your child experience with a variety of driving situations by taking the time to know when and where to drive in your area. For example, your teen how to drive on the highway may be less stressful when it's not rush hour traffic.

Even if it means waking up a few hours earlier or holding driving lessons in the evening, you can squeeze in a lot of good drive time during off-peak hours. According to Fresquez, parents who make time for driving lessons before school are able to practice lane changes, freeway driving, and other valuable skills with their teens during a time when roads are clear and less stressful for both driver and instructor.

Once your teen has mastered these skills on an empty road, you can graduate to a more challenging course during a busier time of day.

5. Stay calm.

Driving with your teen can be a nerve-wracking experience for both of you. Take the lead by being relaxed and confident.

"The calmer I talk to kids, the more I get out of them," Fresquez says.

Instead of yelling at your teens when they make a mistake, try to be patient and remember that everyone makes mistakes. The more anxious you are, the more anxious your teen will feel, and that anxiety can cause your student driver to make more mistakes.

If emotions are running high, consider calling it a day early and trying again when both of you are feeling more relaxed.

6. Consider hiring a professional

Even though parents may know how to drive, they may not be well-equipped to teach those skills to their children -- this may be a good time to call in a professional driving instructor. Most states require teens to take some sort of driver's education course; you can check with your state to see whether this is a requirement in your area.

Aside from traditional driver's education classes, students can benefit from the hands-on training offered by private driving schools around the country. If your teen enrolls in a defensive driving course, they will learn advanced driving techniques and may even qualify for an insurance discount.

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