Tips on teaching your child to drive
Wednesday, 26 June 2019
There comes a time in every parent's life when your teenager, who it seems only yesterday was but a babe in arms, will sit you down and say: "Mum, Dad, I have something to tell you."
Imagine your relief when what ensues is only their expressed desire to learn to drive.
What a load off! That’s way better than some of the other stuff they might have told you, so, by all means, revel in your relief.
Just be aware that reality isn’t far away.
How real? Put it this way, when I started teaching my children to drive, there were days my face couldn’t have been whiter and my underwear couldn’t have been further from it.
Too much information? Well, when it comes to driver training, too much information isn’t enough.
The parent-child driving experience can be variously fraught, fantastic, fumbling, fun, frenetic, frightening, flabbergasting, frustrating and fabulous.
Another F word may also come into occasional play.
If it's your turn to embark on this automotive rite of passage, hopefully, the following tips from my own experience will help ease the tension and trepidation.
Before surrendering the driver's seat, make sure all legal and bureaucratic boxes are ticked.
Obvious as it sounds, your child must have a learner's permit, which in itself requires a degree of preparation, documentation, study and testing.
Jump online to learn the requirements applicable to your state or territory.
Organisations such as the RACQ, NRMA RACV and their equivalents are also full of good advice.
Ensure, insure, reassure
Most insurance policies cover a parent teaching their child to drive, as long as that parent is listed as a nominated driver.
But never presume.
It also wouldn't hurt to reacquaint yourself with the road rules.
Better to know than think you know.
Finally, ensure that your car is mechanically and structurally safe and sound, the rego is paid and your own licence is current.
Time and place
Our roads and streets are teeming these days and this can be daunting for a new driver.
We started on less crowded and less demanding thoroughfares, industrial estates and other suitable areas.
This more leisurely pace of education means your child can become used to the feel of the car, and the way it handles and responds, before being thrust into the motoring maelstrom.
Once the maelstrom beckons, however, pick your times.
For instance, school drop-off and pick-ups are incredibly frantic, peak hour is called peak hour for good reason, and handling the higher speed and unpredictable nature of highway driving, especially at weekends, will take time.
Angst? No thanks
When my son was learning to drive, he tended to neglect his mirrors and he struggled with roundabouts.
As for my daughter, she drove further left than the Kremlin, so anxious was she about oncoming traffic.
As difficult as it may be, through all their bunny hops, crunched gears, unreleased handbrakes and fully released emotions, try to remain calm and supportive.
Accept that mistakes will be made, remind yourself that this young driver is indeed the apple of your eye, then re-check your insurance and put your panel beater on speed dial.
Other simple measures may assist.
These include adjusting the position of the seat, steering wheel and mirrors for their use, not yours.
Make a quick run-through of the instruments and dials – if it's good enough for a Dreamliner pilot, it should be good enough for you – and discuss where you're heading, speed limits, traffic expectations and weather conditions.
What would we do without our mobile phones?
The answer is drive more safely. Before any lesson begins, turn them off or to silent, store them in the glove compartment and leave them for the duration of the lesson until you are back home, parked, engine off and inside making a post-lesson, nerve-settling cuppa.
With our kids, we also turned the car stereo off for every lesson.
Lady Gaga's A-YO is a terrific ditty, but you don't want to look across to see your kid with their head back, eyes closed, belting out the chorus and playing air guitar as you career into the truck lane on the M1.
Reputable learn-to-drive companies are great.
They can assume full responsibility for, or complement, the driver training process.
We eventually settled on a package of professional lessons, reinforced by our own drives in the evenings and at weekends.
Both kids passed their tests the first time.
The last word
As my children exemplified, every learner is different, a fact that manifests at a heightened level, especially emotionally, in those first days of what hopefully will be a lifetime of enjoyable, accomplished and safe motoring.
Remember, we were all learner drivers once.
Be patient. Be calm. Most of all, be there for them.
Michael Jacobson is an award-winning Queensland-based writer.
His appreciation for motoring began as a young journalist covering racing from Simmons Plains in Tasmania.
Over the years he has interviewed many Australian and international motoring greats.
He has also been driven around Lakeside Raceway at ferocious speed, circumnavigated the Gold Coast Indy circuit at more than 200kmh and managed to squeeze 365,000 kilometres out of a Toyota Starlet.