Keys to Teaching Your Teen to Drive

Did you hear about the new mobile phone app a Tennessee grandfather created after driving with his teenaged granddaughter?  The Safety Information and Protection System (SIPS) notifies parents with a text message if their teen driver is speeding, texting while driving, or exceeding a pre-set boundary.

It’s not the only app designed to monitor teen drivers – there is even one similar to the data recorders used in airplanes, called iGuardianTeen, which records just about every move a driver makes. But, while these monitoring systems may deter some teens from driving recklessly and put their parents’ minds at ease, I think it’s more important to make sure teens learn proper driving skills and techniques in the first place. Unfortunately, many get little instruction beyond practice driving with a white-knuckled parent in the passenger seat.

Think about teaching your teen to drive safely in snow, for instance. How confident are you about your own winter driving skills? My husband took my daughters to a large empty parking lot to teach them how to control a skid and use anti-lock brakes in the snow. It’s one thing to tell them how and another to demonstrate proper technique and have them practice in a safe environment.

Winter driving skills teens should practice in a safe environment

  • Braking with regular brakes
    Minimize brake use on very slippery, icy roads and hills. If you must brake, apply them gently and slowly. If your car does not have antilock brakes do not pump the brakes. Instead, use a steady, gentle, slow  pressure unless the wheels lock . If they lock, ease up on the pedal just enough to regain traction. Rolling wheels have more traction than locked wheels.
  • Using anti-lock brakes
    An anti-lock brake system allows the wheels to lock momentarily. Do not pump the pedal or you will lose any benefit. Instead, keep pressing the pedal firmly and steadily. Do no remove your foot from the brake when you feel the brake pedal vibrate and pulse against your foot – this is normal.
  • Controlling a skid
    If you start to skid, stay off the brakes and accelerator and don’t shift gears. Simply look and steer in the direction you want the car to go.  Never accelerate during a spin. It will only make matters worse.
  • Avoiding distractions
    Driving always demands our full attention even in good weather.
  • Keeping a good distance
    Allow plenty of space between your car and other vehicles. Practice slowing way down and following an appropriate distance behind another car- it takes from four to ten times more distance to stop on snow and ice than on dry pavement. Also practice accelerating, braking, and steering slowly and smoothly.
  • Staying calm
    I remember my dad, God rest his soul, teaching me to drive a stick shift. We were at a toll booth and I was trying desperately to get into first gear as cars began to line up behind us. Dad got so frazzled he yelled at me to calm down, which as you can imagine, only made things worse! We often laughed about the experience, but in retrospect maybe we should have done some practicing beforehand.

If you are intimidated about teaching driving skills to your teen, AAA offers a program called Keys2Drive, which has a state-specific range of tools to help parents work with teens through every phase of learning to drive.

Another resource is a comprehensive teen driver’s education program offered by Ford called Driving Skills for Life. The program just launched a national safe driving tour that includes hands-on driving clinics at 30 high schools in 15 states, including in the greater Portland area in early September. Accompanied by professional drivers, teens will be able to go behind the wheel of specially equipped cars that simulate wet or potentially dangerous driving conditions.

Jim Graham, community relations manager for Ford Motor Company Fund, spearheaded the Driving Skills for Life program in 2003 with the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. In addition to the hands-on program they have a website, It offers quizzes, tips, videos and games for teens, parents and educators and information about the clinics.

“Car crashes are the number one killer of teens, and their inexperience is a contributing factor in these accidents,” says Graham. “The program works with young drivers in four areas that make up more than 60 percent of teen crashes: driver distraction, speed space management, vehicle handling, and hazard recognition.”

While this post is about teens, I can’t help but think that many older drivers would also benefit from training or re-training in the same areas. And that phone app the grandfather created to monitor whether a teen is speeding, texting while driving,  or exceeding a pre-set boundary – well, couldn’t it also be used to track a senior citizen’s every driving move?  Consider this sobering fact: statistics show that older adults are at higher risk for traffic accidents than any other age group.  I’ll tackle that issue in a future post. In the meantime, drive safely, no matter how young or old you are!