How to Teach a Teen to Drive With Eight Helpful Tips
It feels like yesterday you were navigating the challenges of toddlers and tweens. Suddenly, you have a teen who’s learning to drive. As you prepare for this major milestone, you may be wondering how to keep your “not-so-little-one” safe while building their confidence as a driver.
Fortunately, with a little bit of preparation, teaching a teen to drive can be a wonderful bonding experience. Here are eight tips to help you stay calm—and help your teen feel more confident—as you head out on the road together.
Tip 1: Make sure your teen is really ready to drive.
Just because your teen turned 15 (or 16), doesn’t mean it’s time to drive right away. Teens mature at different rates, so it’s important to evaluate whether your son or daughter has the right mindset to get behind the wheel. As a parent, you’re in a good position to assess your teen’s maturity level in other areas of their life, before they learn to drive.1 For example, consider if your son or daughter:
- Is dedicated to their schoolwork
- Shows a desire to achieve goals
- Agrees to your household and state rules for permitted drivers (i.e., asks before using the car, only drives during the day or accompanied by an adult)
- Demonstrates responsibility (i.e., has positive friendships, shows leadership on a sports team or begins employment)
Ultimately, only you know if your teen is ready for this milestone. Don’t rush it if your teen isn’t ready. After all, learning to drive is a big step and requires time, commitment and concentration.
Tip 2: Follow your state’s guidelines for teen driving.
When it comes to driving, every state operates a little differently. Some states allow learner’s permits at 14, while others require teens to wait until 16. You can find out your state’s age restrictions by visiting the Governor’s Highway Safety Association website.2
In addition, you’ll want to learn how many hours your teen needs to drive with a learner’s permit. Take these guidelines seriously and think of yourself as a teacher when you’re in the car together. Practice makes perfect. The more your teen can safely practice driving, the better.
Tip 3: Start slowly by reviewing the basics.
Your teen is probably eager to drive. But before you put the keys in the ignition, help your teen get to know the vehicle. Not only does this step build confidence, but also teaches important safety features. For example, you should show your teen how to:3
- Adjust the rear- and side-view mirrors
- Move the seat to comfortably reach the steering wheel and pedals
- Use the window wipers and defroster
- Turn the lights on and off, including the high beams
- Use the vehicle’s navigation system, if there is one
These details may be second nature to you, but remember, they’re brand new to a young driver. When your teen is out on their own, it’s important to know how to make adjustments.
Once the vehicle is set up for your teen to drive (and when you both feel ready), head to an empty parking lot to practice. You’ll want to find a safe place to drive where there aren’t people or other cars.
Tip 4: Keep your own emotions in check.
If the idea of your teen driving induces anxiety, you’re not alone. Many parents may not be in a rush to put their children on the road. After all, motor vehicle accidents are incredibly common among young, inexperienced drivers. According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety/Highway Loss Data Institute, the fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16- to 19-year-olds was nearly three times the rate of drivers ages 20 and over in the United States.4
Despite any worries about your teen driving, it’s important to be careful how you express your emotions, especially when you’re both on the road. As you teach your teen to drive, remember to:5
- Use a calm and confident tone of voice. Try not to express your anxiety because it can distract from safe driving. Instead, show you feel confident in your teen.
- Discuss where you’re going ahead of time. Set your teen up for success by discussing a destination before you get into the car.
- Give simple and clear directions. If you need to give directions, avoid being too wordy. When teens are learning to drive, they have a lot to think about. Make it simple and communicate clearly. For example, use the word, “correct,” instead of “right,” to avoid confusion.
Remember, a calm car makes for a positive and safe learning environment.
Tip 5: Be a good role model on the road.
Children learn by mimicking their parents’ behaviors—and teens are no exception. When teens learn how to drive, they may watch their parents while on the road. If you regularly speed, run stop signs and disobey other traffic laws, you’re setting a bad example. On the flip side, if you’re a conscientious driver, you’re leading by example.
As you drive, remember to avoid:
- Texting and driving
- Speeding or weaving in and out of traffic
- Searching your smart phone
- Engaging in road rage
Ask yourself, would I want my child doing this on the road? If the answer is no, avoid it.
Tip 6: Talk about driving dangers and distractions.
It’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your teen about the dangers of using alcohol and other drugs, or texting while driving. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) National President Helen Witty, underage drinking kills 4,300 teens a year.6 This is one of the primary reasons why Amica has partnered with MADD to bring hands-on, innovative and informational underage drinking prevention programming to teens through MADD’s Power of You(th)© program.
Marijuana use is also a major safety issue on the road. The National Institute for Drug Abuse says that drivers with THC in their blood are twice as likely to cause a fatal vehicle accident than sober drivers.5 But there are other distractions that could cause accidents, too.
Remind your teen never to:
- Text while driving
- Drive with too many friends in the car (this can be distracting and is not permitted in many states)
- Play music too loudly
- Drive when feeling emotional (angry or upset) or tired
- Adjust the GPS system or change music on a smartphone while driving
If it helps, set rules for driving. For example, maybe your teen can only drive with one friend in the car or during the day.5 In fact, some states have laws about who teens can drive with and when. Take time to review your state’s laws and establish your family’s rules, too. Then, communicate to your teen.
Tip 7: Teach your teen how to maintain the vehicle, too.
Learning to drive is important, but so is maintaining a car. After all, learning to change a tire and keep a vehicle running can make your teen truly confident on the road. After driving together, make sure you also spend time teaching how to:5
- Change a tire
- Check the air pressure in tires
- Open the hood to check oil and transmission fluid
- Top off the windshield wiper fluid
- Interpret warning lights on the dashboard
- Pump gasoline
Too many drivers head out on the road without knowing how to fix issues when they arise. Covering regular auto maintenance can help your teen stay safe—and feel assured while driving.
Tip 8: Adjust your auto insurance and practice driving.
When your teen is ready to get a learner’s permit, call your auto insurer. Usually, you don’t need to add a teen to your auto policy until they officially get a license, but it’s good to check. Since your rates will change when you add another person to your policy, this is the perfect time to consider combining your home or life coverage with one company to see if there are savings to be found.
After you look into insurance, encourage your teen to practice driving with you. Driver’s education is one half of the “learning equation,” but your teen also needs hands-on learning. As a parent, you have the power to teach your teen how to drive, and to encourage safe driving habits long term. Spend time with your teen on the road. It’s invaluable.
- Is my teenager ready to drive? DriversEd.com, 2019
- Teen and Novice Drives, Governors Highway Safety Association, n.d.
- How to teach a teen to drive, YourAAADaily, 2020
- 2019 Fatality Facts – Teenagers, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety/Highway Loss Data Institute, 2021
- Behind the Wheel: How to Help Your Teen Become a Safe Driver, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2017
- MADD Announces Partnership With Amica Insurance to Remind the Nation: A Safer Future Rides on Tomorrow’s Drivers, MADD.org, 2020