Teaching Kids to Drive: What Not to Do

April 28, 2017


On the road


Kristen Brown

Stress and parenting seem to go hand in hand. We worry if they’re eating enough, if they’re sleeping enough and if we’ve equipped them with the right skills to be a decent human being. But these worries pale in comparison to what is known as the most critical moment in our parenting careers. The one where we need to muster all the skills we’ve learned – kindness, smiling when we’re dying inside, courage in the face of danger and a whole bunch of patience.

Yep, it’s teaching our kids to drive.

With our friends at driving school, Total Driver Australia, we've put together the top 5 mistakes parents make when teaching their kids to drive to help you know what not to do when your teenager is behind the wheel. 

1. Don't be a know-it-all


Parents can be forgiven for going gung ho into driving lessons. Heck, some of us have been driving for 25+ years by the time we teach our kids to drive, we know everything right? Maybe, but think of it this way:

  1. In the drivers’ seat there’s your kid who is high on self-confidence after just passing their learners test.
  2. In the passengers’ seat there’s you, who hasn’t had a driving infringement in at least two years so you’re basically a pro.

Mix these two egos together with the sheer terror you both feel about the situation and you’re bound to have an argument (or 20).

Gene Corbett from Total Driver Australia says firstly, accept you will be the fall guy, "the challenge is that everything is happening too fast, too late and there is a constant flow of information to keep up with.

For the learner, it is incredibly stressful, unfortunately for you, you are a safe place for them to vent". And if things reach boiling point? Gene says, "stop the car when things don't go to plan. Help them understand what they aren't seeing and definitely don't talk down to them, keep it light". 

2. But don't be scared either

Yes, so we've just agreed that you will probably be terrified, or at the least nervous about teaching your kids to drive. So make it easy on both of you and don't rush the process (after all, you've got 100 hours - plenty of time!?). 

"Your kids have spent years backseat observing, believing it to be simple," says Gene, "but nothing can really prepare them for the decision making driving introduces."

So start small, simple and slow. Discuss where you will be going before you even set foot in the car. Make it a quiet, well-known area to start off with so you both feel comfortable. Avoid yelling (this will only show them how worried you are, which will in turn worry them) or pushing them to do something they don't feel comfortable to do. 

"It is all about both parties earning each others respect," says Gene, "being patient will give some good benchmarks in driving."

3. Don't sit in silence when teaching your kids to drive


How many times have you told your kids that they have 'selective hearing' or to look again if they're having trouble finding something? It's not just them being lazy, there's a science to it that also applies to the road.

"Even if they look, doesn't mean they see", says Gene, "our brains pick and choose what it thinks we should see based on what it expects to be there. As we introduce speed, it compounds the issue."

So what's the solution? Keeping quiet so they can concentrate? Nope, keep the conversation going says Gene. "Get your teen to commentate on their driving, not only what they see, but their driving plan to manage what is evolving around them - cars, traffic, intersections, braking and gears, everything". 

4. Don't have double standards

Even though the mechanics of driving a car are probably the same as when you learnt, (assuming you aren't from the horse and buggy era ?) it's the road conditions that are different. 

"Everything about the road has changed. Today’s environment is faster, more competitive and less forgiving," says Gene.

As well as the roads being busier, drivers are distracted easier. With mobile phones being a leading form of driver distraction, educating your kids on the dangers is important. That means leading by example. If kids see you on your phone driving - you can bet they'll think it's okay to be on their phone too. 

5. Don't be afraid to ask for help 

"Having a strong, respectful relationship before you decide to take on the road together is the key", says Gene.

But sometimes admittedly, even that isn't enough. 

"See the key challenge for every parent, is we all taught ourselves how to drive, then we kind of adapted. No one ever taught us how to teach, what to teach, or what driving is really all about, says Gene. The Total Driver program is unique as it supports the parents at each step in their role as supervising drivers, whilst we prepare the student.

At each step we provide a live report of performance, what to practice, how much to practice and then the mentoring program, which details the key information on how to practice. This process defines what good driving, correct technique and the appropriate learning paths are."

If you need help or advice on teaching your kids to drive, you can access free mentoring programs and parent training nights through Total Driver. Parents can also sign up to the Total Driver FB page and newsletter, where each month they provide answers to the questions parents have been asking. 

Kristen Brown

Kristen is a Social Media and Content Marketing Specialist. She has experience writing on road and work safety and legal rights topics. Currently she leads the content for Smith's Lawyers as editor and content creator for the blog.