Family

Top tips on safe teenage driving

oost teenagers are dying to learn how to drive, but parents can be wary as they realise that those first few years on the road can be very dangerous. However, having a teenager with a licence can give you back all that time you used to spend being their personal taxi.

By Andrew McNulty

Young Kiwis have a road fatality rate of 21 per 100,000 of population and a recent study by the University of Waikato and the Automobile Association found that teenage brains are simply not developed enough to drive responsibly until they are 25. It's not surprising then that young drivers make up 16% of all licensed drivers yet are involved in around 38% of all serious-injury crashes. Here are some tips for teaching your child to be a safe driver:

  • Wait until your teen is ready to start driving. Some won't feel up to it so the last thing you should do is push them into it. When they're ready, they'll tell you.
  • Make a long-term plan for driving lessons, scheduling lessons once or twice a week. A recent study advises that teenagers spend 120 hours being supervised while driving before they go solo but that doesn't mean you have to squeeze it all into a few weeks.
  • Make sure you are your child's best teacher. Are you the sort of person to blow your stack if something goes wrong? Are you likely to yell at your child if they make a wrong turn? Then you are not the person to teach them to drive. Find someone else in your family or among your friends who might volunteer.
  • Start with the basics and keep it short. There's a lot to take in so make the lessons no longer than half an hour to start with and make sure you are both in a safe place. An empty supermarket carpark or an industrial area in the weekends is good.
  • Work on their confidence. You want them to enjoy driving so start with things which are relatively easy to do and you can praise them for, such as changing gears, turning, braking and then reversing.
  • Don't set targets. People learn at different speeds and some are just better drivers than others. Your teen might be taking ages to learn how to reverse, but the important thing is you don't move on until he has mastered it and feels completely confident. Be patient.
  • When you are driving and your teen is a passenger in the car, use this time to talk to him about driving. Show him how you do a hill start, point out bad driving in other cars and quiz him on what the road signs mean. And be a good driver yourself. You can't expect your child not to speed if you do, or to stop at a red light if you regularly run them.
  • When you graduate to driving on the open road with your teen, map out your route beforehand. Your child has enough to think about just driving the car without you giving them the wrong directions. So plan, then drive.
  • Keep motorways and rush hour for the final few lessons when you are absolutely sure your teen is up to it. These can be frightening places for people who have had their driver's licence for years, so don't rush your child into it.
  • Teach your teenager to be a defensive driver by talking through potential risks and hazards. Drive past a rest home, where they need to watch out for pedestrian crossings and people walking slowly across the road. Ask them to consider if schools could be a problem after 3pm, and advise them to pull over rather than let a car driving behind harass them into going faster.
  • once they can drive reasonably well, throw them the keys and let them do the bulk of the family driving while you are in the passenger seat. Remember they will need to have about 120 hours of driving time with you so every trip out counts as valuable experience.
  • Write up an agreement between you and your teenager which covers the use of your car and rules for borrowing it, such as when the car should be returned.
  • You should always have the final say if you are uneasy about them driving in bad weather. And there should obviously be no drugs or drink before driving.
  • Don't be in a hurry to let them buy their own car. While they are driving yours they will be taking more care than they might if they were driving their own car. Wait until those first few years of driving are over and they are confident and sensible behind the wheel.
  • Teach them the basics about car maintenance, such as changing a tyre, topping up water and oil and maintaining tyre pressure.

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