My recently turned 15 year old son was enrolled in a driver’s education course. I thought I ought to take him out to do some practice driving. We went to an empty parking lot. To describe his accelerating and braking as turbulent is an under exaggeration. I instructed him to simply drive around the lot trying to stay in the driving lanes and not cross any of the parking lines. He hit at least a dozen imaginary cars that were legally parked. Pulling into and exiting a parking space was more harrowing. My nerves were frazzled and so were his. It had been a tempestuous fifteen minutes. That was enough for lesson number one.
That event occurred five years ago. He eventually mastered driving and the state of Illinois issued him a driver’s license. All of our children passed the significant milepost of acquiring their licenses and eventually owning a vehicle. We had some good ideas and learned some valuable points in the process which I think are worth sharing.
- Enroll in driver’s education if possible. Choose either public school offerings or private driving school. Insurance companies offer discounts for having completed these courses.
- Insurance companies also offer discounts for good grades. The primary job of a high school student is to be a student. Help your student keep that priority. It pays.
- Starting with your 10-14 year old child, talk about road names and directions (N, S, E, and W) while out driving. Some roads change names at certain intersections, and some roads have word names as well as route numbers. Sometimes say nothing and allow them to navigate you to a familiar place. Some of my children were great at this and loved it and others were less adept. This can even be done while bicycling.
- If you have a lawn tractor, driving it is good practice for other vehicle driving. You are the judge of your child’s level of maturing, but many six to ten year olds could be started on a lawn tractor. We had an eight year old who was proficient at mowing on the lawn tractor and my husband literally drove farm tractors beginning at age five!
- Each state has individual rules for licensing teens. I suggest they have a driver’s permit for a full year so that they can gain experience under your supervision. They need to drive in rain, snow, ice, and wind. They should practice driving in day and night on residential roads, in business districts, on one-way roads, on dirt, gravel and highways.
- Help your student gain skill and familiarity with the systems of your vehicle including navigation, cruise-control, and some basic car care.
- Offer a one year good driving monetary bonus to your newly licensed driver. The bonus is awarded to the driver who does not receive any tickets and does not cause an accident in their first year of licensed driving. This cash payout will cost you less than increased insurance rates due to an accident or moving violations. All five of our children received their bonuses.
- Do not give your 16 year old, new driver, or even an 18 year old high school graduate, a new car. They are not ready for it. They do not need it. A reasonable used vehicle is ideal. They should pay for some or all of the costs. Many will crash it within two – three years or less.
- When they have an accident, do not take over. Help them to handle it. When our fifth child had an accident I called the insurance company and handled all the paperwork. That was not the best decision. It would have been better to symbolically hold his hand, as he managed it all. I robbed him of an important learning experience.
- We paid for vehicle insurance for our children as long as they were students in high school and college. Upon graduation they became responsible for that living expense.
Driving is a vital step in helping your children gain independence from you. And it is a great benefit to you.