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5 Things You Must Know When You Have New Drivers

Photograph by Bryanne Salazar

In the span of one week, both of my teenage sons passed the driver's permit exam and went from being passengers in my car to the reason I have an elevated heart rate and a dozen new white hairs on my head.

While I was the one encouraging them to take this pivotal step forward in their lives, I wasn't prepared for the white-knuckle terror I'd experience while they were driving.

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New drivers are notoriously prone to making mistakes. As they're adjusting to the rules of the road, they're bound to accelerate too fast or hit their brakes too hard. They struggle with staying in their own lane, managing the car while changing lanes, and stopping too close to vehicles ahead. My kids are no exception and we have had our share of near-misses since they've started driving.

Thankfully, even when they darted out in the middle of oncoming traffic (yep, that happened twice) we've survived. My husband and I learned a few valuable lessons about teaching a child to drive, too.

1. Whatever you do, don't scream.
OK, sometimes you may have to scream. When my sons (each) pulled into the middle of the road while traffic was headed our way (in both directions), I panicked and may or may not have yelled something to the effect of, "Oh my God! We're going to crash!" but I saw right away how erratic that made them. Loud, frightening noises while driving are good for one thing: distracting the driver. I definitely don't want to die, but I also don't want my sons to look anywhere other than the road.

2. No one listens to a nag.
If you're a type A parent, you may have a hard time relaxing and letting your child get comfortable behind the wheel. If you start over-correcting them for every little thing they're doing, they will learn to block you out and they may not be able to learn from you because they will feel defensive when you give instructions. If you really feel your child needs a lot of correction, consider hiring a professional driving instructor to save yourself the headache.

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3. Confidence — not over-confidence — is key.
You wouldn't want an insecure surgeon operating on you, or an uncertain lawyer representing you in court. Likewise, you don't want your child to be so lacking in confidence in their ability to drive that they freeze behind the wheel. Make sure you compliment the positive parts of your child's driving. Don't blast them with gratuitous approval though. You don't want your child to think they are the Dale Earnhardt of the road who can do no wrong. Strike a balance and let them know that it's OK to make mistakes, and that with practice they will improve.

4. Your example matters.
If you have road rage, tailgate other drivers, talk or text on your cell phone while driving, or do something that demonstrates a lack of safety or concern for yourself, your passengers and other drivers, don't expect your child to be any different. Our kids learn more from example than instruction, so make every effort to drive the way you would want them to drive.

5. Seatbelts, insurance and practice are pivotal.
My car used to be new and pretty. Now it's dented, scraped, and the undercarriage is hanging on by a thread. But guess what? We are all alive. Every day in the U.S. seven teens between the ages of 16 and 19 die due to automobile-related injuries. I'm determined to help my sons learn to drive safely and while that may mean my car suffers, I couldn't be happier. Insurance will cover the property damage, seatbelts will play a big part in keeping us safe, and my sons will gain the necessary experience on the road to not join that terrifying statistic.

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