Kathy Bernstein Harris is the Senior Manager for Teen Driving Initiatives at the National Safety Council. Follow Kathy as she shares her experiences teaching her own son to drive, from the perspective of a teen driving expert and a mom.
How do you actually teach a teen to drive?
Think about it. We’ve been at it for a while. Driving is a learned skill that takes lots of practice (far more than the 50 hours required in my home of Illinois, and many other states). It’s a continual learning process because roadway situations and the driving environment is constantly changing. But you have to start somewhere.
Honestly, I don’t remember practicing driving with my parents. I’m the fifth of six kids. My mom was lucky to get my name right most of the time. I took driver’s ed classes at the local high school over the summer. I remember using the simulator a few times and driving the track a couple times. I know we practiced getting on and off the expressway exactly one time. I don’t have any recollection of driving with my mom or dad. Maybe my older siblings took me? I’ll have to ask at our next family dinner.
I held a permit for a couple of months – not the six month minimum required today. I also learned to drive in the relatively ideal weather conditions of summer. The rest was trial by fire.
So, I have a confession. The last day of driver’s ed, I returned home (on my bike) and my mom was at the stove making dinner. She asked me to go to the local market and get a bag of frozen peas that she needed immediately. She let me take the car.
The market was four suburban blocks away. There were stop signs at every corner. I would go slow and be careful. What could go wrong?
I took my time. Made complete stops. Looked left, right and left again. I signaled. I arrived safely. Proudly, I purchased my peas and headed home. Pulling out, I looked behind me, slowly reversed out of the parking spot. Sounds like I did a good job, right?
Unfortunately, I also “slowly” took out the side of the car parked next to me. Turns out, no one ever took the time to teach me how to park, let alone practice with me!
Sure, that was “back then,” but that’s a cop out. Then or now, this is not how you teach a teen to drive.
Now that I know what not to do, I’m focused on teaching Declan—the right way. Sounds funny coming from the traffic safety professional and a teen driving expert, right? Just about every day, I talk to parents, teens, media and other safety professionals about how to keep other teen drivers safe, but it’s completely different to learn hands-on what I need to do to help my own son become a safe driver—teaching and coaching at the same time. So, parents, where do we begin?
There are resources out there, but of course I’m biased. The one you’re reading right now—which I helped create, if you’ll allow another shameless plug—is DriveitHOME™. One of the first things parents ask me is, “What do I teach them? Where can I find this information? Should I just use my state’s DMV booklet?”
You certainly can, and it’s probably a good idea to look through it and refresh your memory about the rules of the road, but wouldn’t it be nice to just have something in your back pocket when you go on your weekly drive with your teen? DriveitHOME’s Digital Driving Coach, created with the help of driver education professionals, features lessons you can have delivered directly to your inbox every week during the first year your teen has a license. Would you rather look through the lessons and decide what you want to cover that week? All 52 lesson are available in the Lesson Library.
The point is, I—we—have plenty to learn, parents. Let’s start studying and catch up in January. I hope you and your family have a happy and safe holiday season. See you in the New Year!