Driver Education: 6 Things Every Smart Parent Needs to Know

As a mom who had BOTH sons total cars within six weeks of each other,  I’m here to tell you that sometimes,  we don’t know … what we don’t know!

My family was lucky, because both crashes were bad enough to cost some pretty serious money, but not anything more.

Jayne's sons the year they totaled two cars.

Jayne’s sons the year they totaled two cars.

At the time my sons signed up for driving classes, our family was crazy busy. We were juggling the demands of work, school, volunteering and lots of sports, including hockey, softball and golf.

Choosing a driving school wasn’t really on our parental radar as something to think about carefully. We were nervous about having teen drivers (what parent isn’t?) but we thought our job was simple: sign ‘em up for driver’s ed class, assume the instructor knows how to teach to drive, and hope for the best!

What I’ve learned since then is critically important information for any parent about to pick a driving school. 

  • Teenage driving is a very big deal. It’s actually the biggest risk to the life of your children between the age of 15 and 21.
  • Not all driving schools are created equal. There are probably great instructors in your area who know how to teach a teenager to drive well. And there may be some who aren’t quite as good.
  • Parent involvement is really, really important! Teaching teenagers to drive may not be a skill that you do professionally, but it’s now a very urgent part of your job as a parent.

When my boys were taking their permit test, I didn’t understand any of those three facts.

But I’m glad that parents of teenage drivers today have an advantage: the research is clear about parent involvement … and there are new resources to help parents do a great job with driving education for their own sons and daughters.

As a hockey mom almost a decade ago, I spent a lot of time and money on all the activities that my boys loved, but I definitely didn’t pay enough attention to driver’s education for my sons.

You can be smarter … and your own son or daughter can become a safe teen driver,  by following the advice below.

  1. When you’re shopping for a driving school in your area, ask your neighbors and ask your neighbor kids! If the kids say “It was boring,” that’s not a good sign.
  2. Find out whether a driver’s ed program has an orientation program. Parent Night presentations are very helpful for parents whose kids are about to learn to drive. Instructors who are really serious about training novice drivers – are instructors who know how important it is to get mom and dad “on board.” Your local branch of the National Safety Council may be sponsoring those events, too.
  3. Ask whether the curriculum includes any defensive driving information. “77% of all crashes are preventable if you know what to do,” according to veteran crash investigator Mike Pehl. “Knowing what to do and how to do it BEFORE you are in a crash situation is truly the difference between life and death.”
  4. Understand the difference between the classroom instruction & behind-the-wheel. The book learning that happens before getting a learner’s permit is important, but nobody ever becomes a good driver sitting behind a desk. Ask who really does the behind the wheel training, and how they are chosen. There should be a good answer!
  5. Ask what happens if your teenager  isn’t ready  to be an independent driverafter the standard number of behind the wheel sessions. There may be laws requiring driver’s ed teachers to sign your teenager’s paperwork after the minimum amount of practice … but a good teacher will speak honestly to a student’s parents about whether their teen is going to be a hazard on the road if they “luck out” and pass the road test. Someone who is truly committed to the safety of their students will do that. That’s the kind of teacher you want for your son or daughter. As Mike Pehl says: “I get them for six hours. You get them for life.”
  6. Finally, educate yourself. Being the parent of a student driver means you need to learn some new things now, too. As Julie Smith, a part-time behind-the-wheel instructor says: “Knowing how to drive is not enough when it comes to teaching someone else!” Many resources such as driver education videos like “Roadworthy: a Parent’s Guide to Teaching Teens to Drive” are available now for the parents of teenage drivers. They’re filled with good information that can make a difference for the safety of your teenager, their passengers, and all of us who share the roads.

Our family got lucky when we had teenage boys learning to drive. But you can bet that when the babies of my own sons approach driving age in a few years, I’ll be watching out for my grandchildren, and making sure my boys do it better than I did!

-Jayne Ubl

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