How to teach your child to drive
From learner drivers to safe P-platers, RACV Drive School experts give their tips and advice for teaching kids to drive.
Kids grow up so fast. One minute you’re showing them how to tie shoelaces, and the next you’re teaching them to parallel park. While the thought of your child driving solo might be sickening, it’s a key milestone for any young person. A shiny new P-plate will give them freedom and independence, but it also puts them at risk. Young drivers are over-represented in serious crashes and fatalities on our roads.
To help you help the learner driver in your life gain the skills they need to be safe and confident behind the wheel, we asked RACV Drive School manager Lydia Kendray for her tips on teaching young people to drive.
Learners need as many lessons as it takes to become a safe and confident driver, not just to pass the test.
How can we make our young people safer on the roads?
“We need to train them properly,” says Lydia, a passionate advocate for raising safe young drivers. “Start by finding a good supervisor and make sure you help your child gain plenty of practice in all conditions.”
Do I really need a professional instructor to teach my child to drive?
“No, parents can teach, as long as they do it in the right way,” explains Lydia. “Some parents are good teachers, and their kids just need a few lessons to put the finishing touches on their skills before their final test. The majority of kids who do really well have parents who join us in the car for a few lessons and pick up some good teaching techniques. It helps them learn what to do, and also reduces stress for everyone.”
She recommends booking in for a free one-hour Keys2Drive lesson after the learner has gained a basic grasp of driving with about 10 to 15 hours of initial practice. These government-funded lessons, which include 30 minutes of theory and 30 minutes behind the wheel, are designed to train both the parent-instructor and the learner in the best way to practise to develop safe and confident young drivers.
What makes a good driving instructor?
“It’s important to have someone who’s calm and relaxed, not someone who gets angry if the learner does something wrong,” says Lydia. “Mistakes will happen – that’s all part of learning. The last thing you want is someone stressed.
“The most important thing to remember when teaching young people to drive is to ask questions, not tell them what to do. A good instructor will form instructions by using questions. For example, ‘Is it safe to move away from the kerb?’, ‘What’s the speed limit on this road?’ or ‘What’s coming up in the mirror?’ Most parents tell kids what to do, which leads to problems when making decisions for themselves. Then they get to a roundabout with five exits instead of four, they panic and make the wrong move. Learning to drive is more than just passing the test, it’s about being able to make good decisions.”
What else do parents need to be aware of?
“Many people pass on some really bad driving habits without even knowing that they’re doing it. I see young people who’ve copied Mum or Dad and are driving with one hand, or they’re leaning on the centre console or the car door. Some even drive – and teach their kids to drive – with two feet, one on the accelerator and one on the brake. It’s just so dangerous.”
How can I help my child find a good driving instructor?
“Look at the RACV Drive School website, or call the school and they’ll match you up with an instructor in your area. Word of mouth is also a great way to find someone suitable. Make sure any instructor you choose has a Working with Children Check and a valid Police Check. They must also have their Driving Instructor Authority displayed in the car for them to conduct the lesson. If they’re missing any of these things, I wouldn’t even get in the car.”
How many driving lessons will my child need?
“The average is usually between five and 10 lessons but it really varies. Some people need many more than that. Learners need as many lessons as it takes to become safe and confident drivers, not just to pass their learner test.
How many hours of driving do they need to do?
“Learners under the age of 21 need to complete 120 hours of supervised driving, including 20 hours of night driving, before their test. That’s a lot of driving. But sometimes, families make the time up on the same route every day. Practising in all conditions, daytime, night time and in wet weather, on country roads and freeways, is crucial, even if you think you’ll just be driving to the same place every day. And as we know, Melbourne weather is crazy! You really need to be prepared for anything.”
According to the Transport Accident Commission, red P-platers are seven times more likely to be injured or killed driving at night than fully licensed drivers, so the time parent instructors spend with their L-platers is vital, says Lydia.
Although learners over the age of 21 are not required to complete 120 hours practice, and can move straight to green P-plates, Lydia says they still need to develop good driving skills to pass their licence test and become safe and confident drivers.
Any other tips to improve driving safety?
“Every day I see someone on their phone or speeding. It’s worth asking kids to imagine they’re driving their best friend in the car and how they’d feel if they hurt them. Get them to think about worst-case scenarios. It’s important to understand that if they make a bad decision they could end someone’s life. Novice drivers also need to understand that it’s illegal for learners and probationary drivers to use their phone for any reason while they’re driving, even playing music.”
Learners need to complete 120 hours of supervised driving before their test.
1. Take your time
Don’t advance too quickly. A bad experience in an environment your young driver wasn’t ready for can ruin their confidence and set progress back months. Follow the ‘4 Stages of Learning to Drive’ that come with the VicRoads Log Book and tick off the competencies as each has been repeatedly achieved – starting with learning to start, stop and steer safely in quiet areas without traffic before moving on to applying newly learned skills on low-speed roads with little traffic.
2. Get them comfortable behind the wheel
Your first-time driver may have only used pedals on a PlayStation game and have no idea how sensitive the accelerator and brake pedals can be. Give them time to feel comfortable with the pedals before taking off for the first time.
3. Point to where you want them to go
A person will steer to where they are looking. Especially learners. If a parent says “watch the parked car”, it’s guaranteed to make them head for it. Point to where you want them to go.
4. Mix it up
Get your young driver to experience all possible scenarios while you’re there to help – including short and long drives, regional and metro including CBD. Add complexity such as noisy passengers, music and varied weather, and drive different cars including front and rear and all-wheel drive.
5. Talk about road safety
Make road safety a discussion point around the table when the news focuses on another collision or a new vehicle safety option. Don’t underestimate the importance of such discussions.
6. Don’t change lanes
Almost all learners slow down to do lane changes. Get them on to a main road and tell them: “We are not going to do a lane change, but I want you to tell me when it’s safe to do so”. This makes it easier to maintain a steady speed as they know they are not actually going to do a lane change, and breaks the stress into two parts.
7. Set a good example
Lead by example. Young drivers mimic our behaviour and will drive in a similar manner, particularly once on their probationary licence. But they don’t have the depth of knowledge, skill and experience to survive an error in judgement.
8. Challenge them
As your learner progresses, move them on to more challenging routes that are more than ‘just a drive’ to help them build confidence and replicate the conditions they will face as a licensed driver.
9. Book lessons to learn the basics
Get professional lessons to introduce your learner to driving and help you work through key milestones so that the 120 hours are meaningful.