I have three daughters, two of whom received their drivers' licenses recently. As a parent you go through amazing milestones with your children. While each milestone is memorable such as taking their first steps, cutting their first tooth or riding a bike without training wheels, there is nothing quite as life changing or game changing as getting their drivers license.
This fall will be the first time my daughter plans to drive herself to school each day. Previously I setup a complex carpool with a few other parents where we spread out the driving responsibility while helping the environment at the same time. Now that my daughter has her license it is an opportunity for her to get more practical driving experience under my supervision. Here's what I'm doing to ensure she is ready:
Practice, practice, practice
What I've learned is that the actual driving on the road is the "easiest" part about driving. It is the more refined aspects such as parallel parking, U-turns, entering or exiting the highway and shifting lanes that take a lot of practice and become competent. So the months leading up to my daughter driving herself to school have been filled with having her drive me everywhere I go including the post office, library, grocery store while I can observe her skills. Every time she gets behind the wheel I see a marked improvement as she gets more experience. It may seem obvious but I've been surprised by how many parents expect this to happen during drivers education classes with an instructor and not from real-time experience with the parent.
First Solo excursion
By the time your teen is able to drive to the grocery store or library without any tense moments or instructions from you they are ready to take a little solo trip on their own. My daughter was thrilled when I asked her to head to the grocery store for me and pick something up for dinner. I have to admit I was nervous from the moment she left until she returned home. It was like that commercial on television where the dad is telling his daughter to be safe while driving. In the commercial you see her as a teenager, but in the dad's mind he still sees her as a five-year old. That feeling is hard to shake but in time it will fade and you will see them as an independent young adult.
Prepare for the worst
It's difficult to think imagine but it's always best to be prepared for the worst. That means thinking about the possibility that while driving your child could have a flat tire, get into a fender bender or run out of fuel. Anticipate what those possibilities might be and sit down with your teen and review the steps they need to take to be confident in handling any situation on the road. For instance although most cell phones have cameras these days, I still keep a disposable camera in each car glove compartment. It's there to take photos of any fender bender, driver's license and scene of the accident. Sometimes your mind is so panicked that having those photos help you remember what exactly happened and records details that the insurance company needs. Take them with the cell phone also. Someone recently made an illegal u-turn and rammed into the rear of my car. I took photos of their insurance card, drivers license, dents, angle of the accident, surrounding area and license plate. All of this helped with my claim and proved that the other driver was in the wrong.
It's a simple thing but make sure your teen knows how to add fuel to the car, check the tire pressure and check the oil and windshield washer level. My husband and I have also taught them how to use jumper cables which we keep in the car at all times. These simple tasks help build their confidence and will also make you feel more confident about their safety.
It is absolutely critical that drivers avoid texting and even hands free cell phone use while driving. While it is tempting to answer the phone or a text message, it can always wait until my teen is parked and in a safe place to do so. I have asked my daughters to call me before they get in the car so I know they are on the road and unable to answer my call. I have even told them that they are not allowed to use the radio or music on their "iDevice" because of the temptation to fiddle with the dials and potentially take their eyes off the road. In time they will be able to build up the number of hours just like a pilot which increases their experience and your confidence in their safety. Eventually they can listen to their music, but the texting and cell phone use is a no-no.
Along with written instructions that I keep in the glove compartment to follow in case of a fender bender, I also keep a road kit that includes a jumper cable, first aid kit, flares, tire gauge, window wipes, emergency cash for tolls and gas, disposable camera, and emergency phone numbers. As a habit I photo copy the car registration to keep in their wallet as I have learned that it is a risk to keep it in the car where it can be stolen along with private information. They always carry their insurance card and drivers' license in their wallet.
Once your teen has a driver's license their road to independence becomes reality. You will be able to remove your chauffeur hat and before long they will be taking you wherever you need to go.
What other tips to you have for your new teen driver?