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What to Teach Your Child Before They Get Behind the Wheel

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Teaching your children to drive is one of the most nerve-wracking parenting milestones. It takes a lot of patience and conscious instruction to help your children gain confidence behind the wheel. That's why I slowly introduced them to some basic information about driving and the responsibility that comes with that privilege. These are the topics I started with.

Reading Road Signs

When I was in the car with my child, I began to point out different road signs and their meanings. Of course your teen will know what to do when they see a red octagon. But will they understand the implications of a Divided Highway sign or a Right Lane Ends symbol?

Explain what unfamiliar signs mean and how to respond to them. If the lane you're in is about to disappear, for example, you'll explain that you have to check for an opening in traffic so you can safely merge into an adjacent one.

Review the nearby interstates your child will likely drive on. Have them practice explaining the different signs to you, especially those that can be confusing, such as interstate interchanges. The more familiar your teen becomes with signage, the more confident they will be applying that knowledge.

What to Do After an Accident

I’m guessing we have the same worst fear — our kids getting into a car accident. Given crowded highways, unpredictable weather, and inexperienced drivers, collisions happen. Prepare your teen to handle an accident by making sure they have all necessary documentation — vehicle registration, proof of insurance, and driver’s license — on hand before they drive away.

Coach them on how to respond when an accident occurs. Advise them to stay in the car, check themselves and passengers for injuries, and call the police. When the police arrive, they’ll take a report and help the impacted drivers exchange insurance information.

Tell your teen to minimize conversation with other drivers and avoid accepting blame or applying it to others. Instead, they’ll want to work through your insurer. If your teen is at fault, it’s best to consult with professionals who can help you resolve the situation. If you do not believe your teen is at fault, research technology embedded in your vehicle. In most models, you can utilize vehicle technology to help determine the responsibility of drivers in an accident.

Driver Etiquette

Who goes first at a four-way stop? Who has the right of way at an uncontrolled intersection? Should you travel in the right- or left-hand lane?

Just as with road signs, point out examples as you drive together. Call their attention to appropriate and inappropriate driving behavior. Quiz them on four-way stop sequencing in the moment, challenging their reaction time and peripheral vision. Reinforce their safe driving choices as you practice on all types of roads.

Vehicle Features, Warning Sounds, and Symbols to Pay Attention To

The open door warning signal dings, the low tire pressure light flashes on, and the oil change reminder pops up. You know what takes priority, but does your teen? My children were used to ignoring notifications like pop-ups on a web browser. But doing so can prove detrimental in the real world.

Teach them which notifications can wait until they get home and which require immediate investigation so that they can avoid further harm to their vehicle and keep themselves and others on the road safe.

Sharing the Road

Help your teen pay attention to other users of the road like motorcycles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Remind them that cyclists have the same rights as a full-size vehicle and can use the entire travel lane. Some communities have installed bike lanes alongside the travel lane, but cyclists are not required to use them.

This can be frustrating to drivers of motor vehicles, as the speeds are so different. No matter how impatient your new driver may feel in this situation, though, impress upon them the need to give everyone space and be safe.

What to Do If They Get Pulled Over

Red and blue lights flashing are enough to get anyone’s heart racing. Prepare your child for getting pulled over by ensuring they have what they need and know what to say. You’ve already taught them to keep required documentation at the ready. But what about how they should act?

I taught my kids to keep their hands on the steering wheel as an officer approaches. They know to follow the officer’s directions exactly and ask whether they can make a move before they do so. Making all intentions known helps everyone feel at ease.

Encourage your teen to maintain a positive demeanor, responding honestly and apologizing if appropriate. If it’s their first offense, a respectful interaction could mean a simple warning. If they get a ticket, they should accept their fate graciously and adjust their driving habits to avoid others in the future.

Your baby isn’t a baby anymore, especially behind the wheel. Make sure they’ve got the best foundation to begin their driving journey safely.

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