My son has his learners permit. Now what?
March 22, 2010 4:53 PM   Subscribe

This weekend I took my son out to an empty parking lot for his first experience behind the wheel of a vehicle. He didn't do anything that caused my heart rate to spike, so we got that going for us. However, I realized that I have no idea what I am doing.

I got my license on a small South Pacific island with only two lane roads, no stop lights, one stop sign, and no speed limit in excess of 25 mph. I don't have the traditional drivers education / parents teaching me to drive experience to draw upon here. He won't be taking drivers ed at school and he will eventually have to take professional driving lessons, but I'd like to get him relatively competent before he gets to that point.

What types of things helped you the most when learning to drive? Or, what do you wish your parents had done when they were teaching you to drive? Any and all suggestions are greatly appreciated.
posted by COD to Education (51 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
1. How to steer. That is, how to turn the car and release the wheel to straighten back up again.

2. How to use the brakes without jarring.

3. How to park (parallel parking may or may not be required where you live).

4. Practice getting a feel for the 'edges' of the vehicle (where he is in relation to each of the quarterpanels, how far forward/backward he can pull before touching the bumper, etc.).
posted by Pragmatica at 5:06 PM on March 22, 2010

Get a copy of the road code/local road rules, and try and set up, even verbally via the imagination, scenarios that are mentioned in there. Large parts of driver's tests are based on common situations found within, so you can't go wrong with using them as a basis for education. Your son will still have to learn how to implement them practically, via pro lessons but a sound knowledge of what is within is an invaluable leg-up beforehand.
posted by Sparx at 5:07 PM on March 22, 2010

Or, what do you wish your parents had done when they were teaching you to drive?

I wish they had just sent me to professional lessons from the start. After over a year of my Dad trying sporadically to teach me to drive I was so stressed out by it all I didn't drive again for several years. He wasn't terrible or anything (and is a teacher by trade), he just didn't really know what he was doing. Then when I did try driving again I was jumpy, had bad habits, and just generally didn't enjoy it. Eventually my boyfriend got sick of running around after me and paid for lessons, and in a couple of months and something like seven lessons I was able to pass my test and drive safely and with confidence. The instructor was just in a different league than anyone else who'd tried to teach me.

Professional driving instructors are used to dealing with people with no driving skills at all. There is no reason why your son needs to be 'relatively competent' before taking proper lessons. Since you admit you don't know what you're doing don't risk teaching him bad driving habits or messing with his confidence, just pay for the lessons now. It will be faster overall, less painful and have a better end result.
posted by shelleycat at 5:07 PM on March 22, 2010 [11 favorites]

I don't think I really got how a manual worked, and over the fear of making it stall, until I got the whole let's-do-it-100-times-in-a-parking-lot thing. If you're driving a manual, try this.
posted by mdonley at 5:12 PM on March 22, 2010


My father knew himself well enough to realize that he was not the person best suited to introduce me to driving. IIRC, his cousin's wife got the honours (but using my dad's car), and a large chunk also went to the driver's ed instructors. (I was dumped into driver's ed pretty much as soon as I was eligible.) I then helped out a bit with my younger sister.

A noticeably-tense parent in the passenger's seat does not help somebody learn to be a good driver ... they become nervous, tense and self-conscious, and performance suffers. if you're able to (appear to) relax, and offer calm navigation/instructions/criticism/encouragement, you'll probably do fine.

A few obvious points to remember:
* You started in a parking lot - good. There's a definite progression from that to small, slow, residential roads to busier commercial roads with multiple lanes to highways that require merging.
* Your biggest job is to give your son all the supervised practice he needs. Anytime you're in the car together, he should be driving (assuming he's ready to deal with whatever roads you're using). It's definitely OK to let the driver's ed instructors be in charge of introducing him to new situations, and determining what the progression should be.
* A common problem is that new drivers won't look far enough ahead, which leads to oscillations (as opposed to tracking the lane's center smoothly)
* Another common problem is breaking too abrubtly / not abrubtly enough, depending on the situation. Another case where parking lot practice aimed at exploring the vehicle's handling is a good plan.

And - if he'll be using a manual - parking lot practice with you watching from the curb (to save your neck) may be a good play =)
posted by Metasyntactic at 5:15 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding shelleycat: Put your son in a good defensive driving class. Not only will this prevent him from picking up any of your bad driving habits, but the skills he'll learn may save lives one day.
posted by keep it under cover at 5:16 PM on March 22, 2010

How to see.

Without a method of scanning the road even 10 miles an hour feels horribly fast. The most helpful thing I learned in drivers' ed was the following pattern: first you look straight out the windshield, then you check your rearview mirror, then you look straight again, then you check your driver's side mirror, then you look straight again, then you check your rearview mirror, etc. As long as you are driving, you repeat that pattern--occasionally throwing in a glance to your passenger side mirror-- It's worked pretty well for me thus far. Also, teach him to check his blind spots before merging and to look down the road from wherever he is going instead of just immediately in front of him (that helps with steering as well as with avoiding obstacles/knowing when to slow down).
posted by colfax at 5:18 PM on March 22, 2010

what do you wish your parents had done when they were teaching you to drive?

To cramp your wheel toward the curb AND use the parking brake when parking on a hill. When growing up in the midwest, not a real issue. When in the rest of the country, it is important.
posted by 6:1 at 5:20 PM on March 22, 2010

Your biggest job is to give your son all the supervised practice he needs. Anytime you're in the car together, he should be driving (assuming he's ready to deal with whatever roads you're using).

Actually, good point. We did this too, although after I'd had a few lessons to get my skill level up and confidence back. Then everywhere we went I drove at least some of the way, being behind the wheel regularly does help. But you have to have a certain skill level before you get to that point so it comes after and along side the lessons not before them.

One thing to remember with the practise though (and for any lessons), keep each session short. Forty minutes was my limit for driving for quite a while, after which my concentration went to shit. Someone here is teaching her daughter and said the same thing (daughter gets tired really fast). I think this is one of the things we did wrong the first time I tried to learn and it's a good way to ruin everyone's confidence - having each lesson end with the driver making mistakes and physically feeling horrible. So short but regular is good.
posted by shelleycat at 5:25 PM on March 22, 2010

To keep one car length between you and the car in front of you for every 10 miles per hour you're traveling. So 60 mph, 6 car lengths.
posted by zagyzebra at 5:25 PM on March 22, 2010

DON'T DO THIS THING. Teaching your own kid to drive will teach both of you about your patience levels, but little else; even if you are the best driver in the world, it wouldn't mean you know how to teach it, and even if you wanted to be a driver's ed teacher, this wouldn't be the place to start. Really, find someone else. You will both be happier.
posted by Some1 at 5:27 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Even a handful of classes with a professional instructor would help a lot in getting the basics installed by a calm and competent professional. And when you take over for extra teaching afterwards, clarity, patience, empathy and common sense go a long way.

I was once taken out on a multi-lane highway way too early by someone who tried to tell me what lane to switch to by pointing.

Me: (looking at the three lanes ahead of me and several approaching exits on either side) Which lane should I be in?
Him: (pointing) THAT one!
Me: I can't tell if you mean the left or the center lane.
Him: (pointing) THAT lane!
Me: Use words! I can't tell from my angle which lane you're pointing to. Tell me when you want the left, center or right lane.
Him: (pointing) THAT one! THAT lane! What's your problem?

Even in our debriefing afterwards, he refused to believe that I could not tell whether he was pointing to the left or center lane. Don't be that guy.
posted by maudlin at 5:30 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most driver training programs will spread out the lessons. One at the very beginning and one just before the test with the others spread out in between as the student feels ready to go on to the next step.

One thing that is a nice exercise in a parking lot is for the student to pull into a parking slot and then get out of the car and see where it ended up. It helps them learn the marker points on the car and where the corners are. Be sure to do it on both the left and right sides - they feel different.
posted by metahawk at 5:31 PM on March 22, 2010

For first time highway driving, the best tip I remember was to pick a point on the horizon and steer for it. This keeps you from doing a lot of panicky overcorrecting.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:34 PM on March 22, 2010

*shrieking* BLIND SPOTS! BLIND SPOTS! BLIND SPOTS! *panting*

I tried to teach my husband to drive. I am a great driver - haven't had a speeding ticket in over a dozen years, never a moving violation, and (knock wood) no accidents since I was seventeen (ahem...I'm now mumbleorty). I took Driver's Ed when I was sixteen, and also had a few professional lessons. I love rules, and love to quote infractions when I see them, for fun. I do all the driving in the family, and we do road trips, like Toronto to Texas and back.

He passed the written test and got his learner's permit. He was doing well enough on quiet streets and in parking lots and aside from the weird issue of being unable to maintain a consistent speed on a long stretch of open country road, all was well. But I gave up when, stopped at a four-way stop sign, he didn't notice the person behind us who grew impatient with his overly cautious complete "stop and thorough look at the three other streets, and then maybe again" and who decided to just swerve around us and make a right in front of our car, and so we nearly plowed into him because in his forty years of living on this planet and not driving, my husband didn't know about blind spots and never thought to look behind us and even though he checked the rearview mirrors - that's not good enough.

Whereupon I took over the wheel, drove to an empty parking lot, sat him back at the wheel and proceeded to walk in front of the car on my knees imitating a toddler, and then on hands and knees like a dog; and then instructing him to look in the rearview mirrors, walk around the car and *gasp* magically disappear at times even though I was RIGHT THERE.

He kind of never pursued driving after that. I'm rather relieved. And if he does decide to take it up again, it's professional lessons for him.

Which brings me to - teach him to drive both automatic and stick. As my high-school driving instructor said (pre-cel phone days): Suppose you can't drive stick, and you're a long way out as the passenger in someone else's wheels. You stop and have a lovely picnic in the middle of nowhere, and the driver has a heart attack and there's no help in sight - but you can't drive a stick shift, so you're both stuck.

Which is why driving instructors are great.
posted by peagood at 5:36 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Teach him not to talk/text/sext/whatever kids (and adults who should know better) do with their cell phones while driving.
posted by sallybrown at 5:39 PM on March 22, 2010

Seconding go through the road rules / driver's manual for your state. Is it this one?

Things I had to do for my driver's test included:
Check the car's mirrors before driving off.
Making right and left turns.
Driving through 4 way intersections.
Driving on the highway.
Changing lanes.
Back up in a straight line.
Three point turn.
Driving into & backing into a parking spot.
Parallel park.
Driving through a school zone / park zone.
Driving through areas with different signs (lane changes, yielding, no left turn, etc.) or tricky intersections.

I also really recommend driving lessons!! You don't necessarily have to sign up for a whole course (though where I'm from that will also reduce the time period before you can take the exam). What helped the most is the instructors will be familiar with the same route variations the driving examiners take, and practice these with your son. Then at test time, it will be much less nerve wracking with a familiar route.

What do I wish my parents had done? Made driving more relaxing and enjoyable. Like ShelleyCat, trying to learn from my Mom caused me and her a lot of stress. Don't get emotional or excited if your son makes mistakes: my mom gasping and cringing while I was driving made me VERY nervous. Plus I could have used more practice. I'm sort of jealous my husband was driving dirt bikes, ATVs, all kinds of stuff around since he was a kid: I can see he is much more relaxed about driving and enjoys it more than I do.
posted by SarahbytheSea at 5:40 PM on March 22, 2010

For later dad (your adult may vary) took me out to a big parking lot after a snowstorm and showed me how braking on ice and snow is completely different from even wet pavement, what to do when the wheels skid, how to get up icy hills, etc.

The tactics I learned in that hour or so have saved my bacon countless times since.
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:42 PM on March 22, 2010

I plan to sit down my hypothetical kids and tell them, "Look, this is by far the most likely way you are going to die. So be very careful. It's not like a video game. You only get one chance." Yeah, I'm going to be that guy.

After that, the most important lesson will be to always leave yourself a buffer. Appropriate distance behind the car in front of you, stay focused, etc.
posted by callmejay at 5:44 PM on March 22, 2010

Parking lots are great for learning the basics of deaccelerating/braking, cornering and such, but are no substitute for driving on the road and learning how to deal with other drivers.
Somethings to teach your kid to make him a safer and courteous driver:

1) When passing somebody (in a passing zone, obvs), always use your indicator when pulling out. Accelerate QUICKLY. Once you are past the other car, put the indicator on again and do not get in front of the passed car until you can see both of its headlights in your rearview mirror. (obviously, you are only passing on the left, as passing on the right is illegal in most localities in the US).

2) Do not pass someone if you see ANY on coming traffic, no matter how far ahead it maybe. I've witnessed three accidents that came as a result of a passing car misjudging the distance they had to pass.

3) If you are being passed by someone, flash your headlights when they have 2-3 car lengths in front of you so they know they can cross back over. If the person is passing illegally, SLOW YOUR VEHICLE down as they drive by so that they can get back in lane ASAP. Techincally you don't have to do this, but I'd hate to feel in any way responsible for somone else's death by misadventure. (See #2)

4) The oncoming vehicle to your right (whether it be an unsigned intersection or a freeway entrance ramp) should always be given the right of way.

5) If another is car travelling at unsafe speeds or is harrassing you with aggressive driving, give them a wide berth (see #3).

6) Always assume that every other driver is not as careful as you (even if you aren't very careful yourself).

There's a lot more, but these are the big ones that I see vilolated on pretty consistent basis.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:46 PM on March 22, 2010

I was taught to drive by my dad's girlfriend because both my parents were touchy spazzes. It went well. I taught my sister how to drive, more or less, and took a lot of people for their driving tests when I was in college. I took driver's ed in high school and recommend it. You learn good habits early and you're with your peers which in most cases means you'll try to do well around them. I know you don't plan to do that, but I do suggest it.

Other than that, besides knowing all the rules [even the dumb seeming ones] the most important things to me are

- the one car length for every ten miles thing
- the "check all your mirrors" regularly thing [like every minute, scan all your mirrors]
- there is the speed limit and there is a safe operating speed and in bad weather safe speed may be well below the speed limit
- do not text or talk on the phone while driving
- do not drink while driving or drive while impaired [this was a huge one with my folks - we had a deal where if I had been drinking or if my ride had been, I could call and either get a ride or stay over NO QUESTIONS ASKED and the deal was "no lecture/talk til the next day" - this really helped me stay safe when I would otherwise have done risky stuff]
- always wear your seatbelt, car doesn't go unless seatbelts are on
- how to determine whose turn it is to go at a big intersection
- how to deal with emergency vehicles [with lights or sirens on, what the rules are]
- where I am you need to know how to deal with horses and tractors and school buses fairly regularly

Some of this stuff you just have to learn because you won't encounter it much and it's good to know by the time you do encounter it, some of it you can just practice. Nice job on the first time, no heart attack!
posted by jessamyn at 5:49 PM on March 22, 2010

What types of things helped you the most when learning to drive?

Big parking lot (or field if you have one), a car that doesn't mind if you bump a thing or two, a clutch you don't care too much about and time to figure it out on his own.

Basically, the mechanics can be difficult to learn with someone "helping" you every step of the way.
My dad told me what to do, showed me a few times, and then let me get on with learning it on my own.

Once the mechanics are figured out then it's time for an actual road.

It's so much easier to pay attention to everything else when you aren't whacking the brake too hard, or worried about what gear to be in or what have you.
posted by madajb at 5:55 PM on March 22, 2010

For someone just starting out, the number one thing that will help with the early jitters is that the car will go where you look. This is similar to bonobothegreat's point about steering for the horizon.
posted by demagogue at 6:03 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing that is very easy to do, and gives a person with a huge feeling of control with a car (and thus increases their ability to do everything else without fear/worry/thinking too hard) is to have them drive riiiight up to the lamposts (the ones with the circular concrete blocks at the base) in parking lots, the car perfectly centered on the post. When they can do that to the point that its less than four fingers width from the post and perfectly centered, then they know where the car is on the road. Learning to drive on the road becomes a matter of managing your relation to traffic, rather than also worrying about how to control the car at the same time.

This was part of how my dad taught me to drive. Drove up to the pole maybe 40-50 times before I got it down. I did bump the pole once, but there was no dent, so that was ok. Taught me how to use the mirrors, too. It's much better practice than it sounds.

Oh, do it backwards too. Also important.
posted by Bobicus at 6:04 PM on March 22, 2010

Oh, for your lesson on road rage:

I went to a very odd driving school taught by a very odd instructor named Bill. Among his lessons: never go to a mechanic, just figure out how to fix it yourself; if you're driving drunk, you'll get caught if you drive too slowly; if you hit a large enough bump at a high enough speed, you can launch your car into the air and that's awesome; and always drive 5-10 miles over the speed limit, because no one likes getting stuck behind a slowpoke.

But the one lesson that stuck with me was the lesson on road rage. He brought a video in for that class. It opened with some cheesy '80s intro music and two cars driving on a highway. Car A was driven by a kid our age, a newly licensed driver sporting a mullet and a sweet Miami Vice blazer. Car B was driven by a balding older white dude with glasses and suspenders and a tie and the frown lines linked to those accessories. Car B was driving too slowly, and, as Bill had promised, Car A did not like this. Car A honked angrily and tailgated Car B, which caused Car B to pull the classic dick/genius/passive aggressive move of slowing his speed to a crawl. Car A whipped around Car B, passed him, and then cut back in front of Car B, causing Car B to shake his head ("Kids," I think he grimaced) and throw his hands up in the air with furor. Had this not been an instructional video, Car B would have been giving Car A the two-handed bird. Cars A and B exchanged some passionate honks and screamed various almost-obscenities out their windows at each other. It was all very rageful.

The climax of this video has haunted me for years, and has always prevented me from getting a really great road rage going. Car A kept driving, but he soon noticed that Car B followed him off the exit ramp and through the generic suburban streets. Cue ominous music and worried expressions. Car A turned onto his street and pulled into his driveway. Car B turned into the same street and pulled into the driveway next door. Did Car B's driver get out of Car B with a tire iron and start waling on Car A? No, worse. The drivers were next-door neighbors. They got out of their cars and awkwardly exchanged pleasantries about the weather. One of the most uncomfortable conversations I've yet seen.

Road rage has consequences.
posted by sallybrown at 6:09 PM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

One of the most important things my father taught me were how to look ahead and anticipate what I was likely to face (traffic lights, erratic drivers, big trucks, pedestrians, cars about to park, etc.) The other thing that he did that really helped was making me navigate to our destination. This started a few years before I got my learner's permit. In this game, if we weren't rushed to be somewhere, my father would blindly follow my navigation commands which a.) helped reinforce my sense of spatial relationships between things and b.) taught me to make quick decisions or at least decisions well ahead of when I would have to act upon them.
posted by mmascolino at 6:09 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mom tried to teach me to drive stick, and it didn't work, because she had been doing it for so long that all the actions were now natural and instinctive and she couldn't separate them out. She told me everything in the wrong order, went back and corrected herself multiple times, and it was just all confusing.
Also, the very first time she took me out to drive in a parking lot (in my stepfather's automatic), we had the following incident:
Me: (driving the car very slowly)
Mom: Okay, great, now try putting it in reverse.
Me: Okay! (throws car into reverse)
Me: Oh! Well, you didn't tell me that.
Mom: I thought you knew! Everyone knows that!
Me: Why would I know that?
So, I would strongly advise getting a professional to do the job. They are used to remembering to say all the little things that you probably don't even think of anymore.
posted by Adridne at 6:11 PM on March 22, 2010

- When I was learning I used to get edgy approaching 4-way stops since so much was happening. Here I think a good rule of thumb is to ignore the intersection until you come to a complete stop. Right at that instant, quickly inventory which directions have cars that are parked and waiting. Those are the directions that get to go, and when each one of them is gone, it's your turn. Of course as seasoned drivers we can do 4-ways in our sleep, but the rule of thumb might be useful to someone just starting.

- I think it's good to instill the idea of matching the speed of traffic to stay safe. Merging with a busy freeway is one example.... if you panic and come to a stop, you'll probably never get in and may bring a rear-end collision upon yourself, while if you come up to speed and nose your way in (and there's an open, flat shoulder far ahead), you'll be fine. Likewise don't do 45 mph in 65 mph traffic... big dualie pickup comes right up on your bumper and whips into the left lane at the last second, and the guy behind him is following too close and is distracted getting a text message... boom, right into your trunk.

- Lots of parallel practice is good, especially with cones in an empty parking lot, as this helps give a feel for the dimensions of the car.

- The side mirrors are to cover blind spots, not to watch cars directly behind.

- Develop a habit of paying attention to the traffic further ahead, not concentrating on the single vehicle ahead of you, as this can cue you in to sudden stops, road debris.

- Develop a habit of driving the speed limit and giving yourself extra time so you don't have to rush. I notice when I'm 5+ mph over I am spending more time watching for cops than watching the road & the traffic, and I feel more stressed. It's good not to get into this habit. You might want to show the consequences (traffic fines, points, etc), because they're pretty damn steep these days.

- Defensive driving, defensive driving, defensive driving... I've been in all kinds of traffic and not one wreck in 25 years... knock on wood.
posted by crapmatic at 6:15 PM on March 22, 2010

...he will eventually have to take professional driving lessons, but I'd like to get him relatively competent before he gets to that point.

You are really putting the cart before the horse here. He needs a learner's permit before he gets beind the wheel.

Then, let the professionals have him for about 6 hours.

Doing it without a permit is illegal, and could land you in a lot of hot water. In California, a teen in just this situation hit the accelerator too hard, and jumped right out of the parking lot and killed someone. It was a horrible lesson.

Full disclousure: yes, I took my kids around the parking lot, too. But I put them through driver's ed - got them a permit- and then sent them to driver's training- before I took them on the road.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:21 PM on March 22, 2010

You are really putting the cart before the horse here. He needs a learner's permit before he gets beind the wheel.

The title of the thread is "My son has his learners permit. Now what?"
posted by sallybrown at 6:24 PM on March 22, 2010

Be aware. When my Dad taught me he made sure I was always aware of what the other drivers were doing, and not just the ones directly ahead but to the side, behind and further ahead. He would occasionally ask me where I would go if a car around me did something crazy, the idea is always have a way out that lets you escape from an accident.
posted by dstopps at 6:36 PM on March 22, 2010

Oh god, my experience at driving school was the dead opposite of shelleycat's. Mine was a fucking nightmare. My parents wanted to wait until I was legal and signed me up for driving school. I asked him how to turn the ignition on and he stared at me blankly. Thus commenced six hours of SCREAMING, and him hitting the teacher's brake a lot. He forced me to go onto the freeway after an hour of lesson, when I was crying and clearly not ready to.

Why was this, you ask? Because what I didn't know was that every single effing kid in the burbs had their parents teaching them from a young age how to drive. They did not wait until the child was 16 and legal with a permit. The kids didn't really NEED to have someone tell them how to drive, because they were already long since comfortable with a car. He had no clue what to do with someone who wasn't (I gather I was the ONLY kid in his years of driving school who didn't). I asked around (as did my pissed-off mother) and apparently that is most people's experience with driving school: you are supposed to know how before you go!

My parents are also screamers.

I had driving phobia until age 30 and am only now attempting to take the driving exam next month in an attempt to get it before I hit 32/my permit runs out yet again.

So I think it's fabulous that you are teaching your kid to drive before driving school. You may THINK that schools are designed to teach the scared, but uh... maybe not so much. Investigate the hell out of any school you're considering sending him to, or have him so well trained before driving school that it won't matter if you draw a guy like mine.

Really, the #1 thing I have to say here is DON'T FUCKING SCREAM. If you are a natural born screamer, if you scream every time you have to teach your kid something, then for the love of god, don't teach him yourself. But I suspect from your post that you aren't one. Just STAY CALM. If you can stay calm when he's about to back into a tree and say, "Watch that tree there, Johnny" rather than "STOP ITTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!1111!!!!", you're golden.

#2: getting used to things in the parking lot is good. Don't force him to start hitting the gas at all for awhile.

#3. Gentle him into dealing with things. Daytime driving in an empty-ish neighborhood is good. Country roads are good. When you get to dealing with freeways, driving at midnight when they're empty is very good. Just bring him along at his pace. Get him comfortable with operating the car, then get him comfortable operating it in public space, then work up to public spaces where there's a lot of cars/speed.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:50 PM on March 22, 2010

The best thing to do is to let your son drive all the time. I know plenty of parents that, while their kids were learning, wouldn't let them drive too often, saying they just wanted to get where they're going. I drove pretty much all the time I was in the car, and I think I'm a better driver for it.

One of my mom's friend always said that you should let your kid drive as much as possible while they have their permit, because you won't be there to help when they get their license.
posted by deansfurniture5 at 6:57 PM on March 22, 2010

The progression I used for my kids was:

1. Around the empty parking lot to learn how brakes feel, how steering feels, how the accelerator feels - maximum speed 10 mph (a couple of trips 2-3 hours total time).

2. Around the streets of an empty business park (Sundays) to learn how to make turns and come to an appropriate stop - maximum speed 25 mph (a couple more trips, 2-3 hours time).

3. Around the streets of our residential neighborhood to learn how to start looking for other cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. in a comfortable familiar setting - maximum speed 25 mph (a couple more trips, 2-3 hours time).

4. Around a few predesignated routes on some larger streets that I knew would not require significant lane changes, blind intersections, etc. to learn to be driving along with traffic - maximum speed 40 mph (a couple of trips, 30-60 minutes - this is stressful for both young driver and parent).

5. At this point they did their 6 hours instructor led behind the wheel training. It is true that steps 1-4 are illegal, but the instructor led training is the equivalent of throwing the kid into the deep end and saying swim.

6. After the behind the wheel training, I had them drive everywhere. In the beginning, I talk them through what they should be looking for, checking ahead, watching for cars pulling out, lights about to change colors, etc. After a while of that, they have to verbalize to me, what they are seeing, the other cars, the posted speed limit, the speed they are travelling, what they see in their mirrors, etc.

7. Then they get their license, and take off on their own, and you hold your breath.
posted by Edward L at 7:16 PM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

You can do some parking lot drills that help with low speed hand-eye coordination. Do you have cones or posts? You can try doing sausages around two cones or posts, and then try doing figure eights around them. You can set up a very easy slalom course to practice. Then you can practice parking and once he gets a hang of it going forward, try it again all in reverse. Make that his hands are in the correct position on the steering wheel at all time and that he looks forward. That's what I practiced with my dad in the lot, except i did it in snow which was another kettle of fun.
posted by captaincrouton at 8:06 PM on March 22, 2010

Edward L has good advice. Driving is a complicated, multi-stage learning experience, quite like learning an instrument. You have to know where to put your fingers before you can learn to read music, before you can play a song.

So step one is learning how to operate the machine. Starting, stopping, what the gears are for, how the controls work, how to adjust the mirrors. Practice driving in a straight line, backing in a straight line, how to see stuff in the mirrors. Then some low-speed vehicle dynamics stuff. If you have snow or a wet, slippery parking lot, use that. Have them develop the habits of turning into a skid, when to brake to avoid tragedy, when to accelerate to avoid tragedy, that part about when you are going to hit something, always turn right to try to avoid it (not left, unless there is a really good reason, because you end up in oncoming traffic). What happens when you floor it and dad jerks the wheel and how to recover. How to jam on the brakes effectively. Etc.

Once they get the hang of it in the parking lot and you feel comfortable enough, let them fly solo in the parking lot for a while.

Also, run through everything twice, on different days. Learning tends to keep happening even after the lesson is done, and going back through the last lesson solidifies it.

Get all that stuff down as best you can before getting near a roadway. So the student isn't trying to remember which pedal is which and also trying to remember the rules of the road.

(Just for fun, here's what Driver's Ed was for me, in 1991. Three hours of course driving, and three hours of road driving. The three hours of course driving was in the prototypical parking lot, and you failed if you touched the gas pedal. The road driving was normal in traffic stuff. But it was really 1.5 hours, because you traded off with your partner. Plus book learning. If you passed drivers ed, you got your license without having to take any tests. I had a drivers license with 90 minutes of road experience. Ah, the good old days.)
posted by gjc at 8:07 PM on March 22, 2010

There's so much great advice here already, but one thing that always stuck out for me was, a friend's Dad told us, however vigilant you are on the roads, be ten times that in a parking lot. (Obviously, not an empty one like the one you're practicing in...)

And it's TRUE! People always pull out of spots too fast, not looking, no signals, pedestrians galore, strollers... yeesh, parking lots!
posted by polyester.lumberjack at 8:07 PM on March 22, 2010

This has probably been said before, and I'm sorry if I'm being redundant, but just put him in driver's ed now. You will do it sometime (yes, it's an option to wait until he's 18,b ut my parents' opinion, which I agree with, is that obscure/unusual situations may never come up on the drivers' test or in parents' lessons but driver's ed will cover them all. Plus, many adults are in need of a driving refresher, and if you would feel at all uncomfortable taking a driver's test today, you should probably let your son learn from someone who teaches it all the time.)

It isn't necessary to know how to drive before the lessons start. In fact, it's probably easier just to start lessons ASAP so that that and all his practice driving is out of the way when he's had his permit for long enough to get his license. All the driving places I considered offered 4 hours of simulated driving before you get behind a wheel, and it's not at all unusual to start driver's ed with no experience.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:26 PM on March 22, 2010

Blind spots, yes!

Teach him about trucks (semis, 18-wheelers, lorries, whatever they're called where you are) and other big vehicles like buses:

-They can't slow down fast - do not mess with this. For example, do NOT pull in front of a truck on the highway and then slow down (something I did when I was a rookie driver).
-They have big blind spots - do not stay in their blind spots. Paper models can illustrate this too.
-They make wide turns - again, you can show this with paper models of you and a truck going through an intersection, and what to watch out for.
-They are affected by wind much more than a normal car, so in wind especially, don't hang out right next to one.

If he's overwhelmed, here are two simplifying rules for the rookie driver who's scared of everything. (Of course, if he's over-confident, these aren't the rules to give him.)
1. You're responsible for what happens in front of you. For the moment, you can ignore most of what's behind you. If you get into an accident where you hit the person in front of you -- even if they did something stupid, like stop too fast etc -- it will still be your responsibility. So, eyes front. Don't worry about your mirrors too much for now, if you're just driving on small local roads where you won't be changing lanes. Don't worry about whether people behind you are annoyed that you're going a little slow. (But don't suddenly brake in front of a big truck.) Keep a good space cushion between you and the people in front of you.

2. Secondary thing: other drivers will often be able to accommodate if you do something dumb, IF you are making your movements predictable to them. So always signal, keep your headlights on even during the day so the other guy can see you, etc. If they can predict you're going to make that turn in a weird place, they can avoid an accident.

3. Tertiary thing: remember you can always just pull into a parking lot and take a break to clear your head, calm down, figure out where you are on the map, etc. If you drive while you're freaked out, or angry, etc, you'll make dumb mistakes - so just stop somewhere safe for a minute.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:29 PM on March 22, 2010

If you're in a trafficky area, try doing your first driving practice at night, when the roads are empty. This lets him get comfortable with going 25 mph (which he can't do in a parking lot), maintaining speed up hills, braking coming down hills, coming to a stop gradually, etc - before having to worry about traffic etiquette.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:36 PM on March 22, 2010

... never allow an another, impatient driver's honking rush your decision-making process.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:51 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

The three hours of course driving was in the prototypical parking lot, and you failed if you touched the gas pedal.

Wait... how does that work?
posted by atrazine at 10:38 PM on March 22, 2010

Nuts. I never see the titles.

I still recommend the driver's training class though. Let a pro with a brake take him out first.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:27 PM on March 22, 2010

Trust their words - my Da decided that forcing my brother to drive (I won't drive you to work even though I said I would - you have to do it) would help him 'get over' his fear of driving. My brother's fear being "I've never done this before, what if I hit someone?".

Six years later my brother still doesn't have his license and freaks out regularly because after being forced to drive to work he (strangely enough) nearly had an accident and Da went off his nut.

So yeah, no screaming, no yelling, trust what they're telling you and get professionals.
posted by geek anachronism at 12:03 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow - great answers, thanks to everyone. I get the message - do the poor kid a favor and get him to the professional before I screw him up :) I marked the first person to suggest that as a best answer, I marked Edward L best because that was the sort of answer I was looking for when I wrote the question, and I marked Adridne a best because she made me laugh. But really, all the answers were very helpful.
posted by COD at 5:45 AM on March 23, 2010

what I didn't know was that every single effing kid in the burbs had their parents teaching them from a young age how to drive . . . I asked around (as did my pissed-off mother) and apparently that is most people's experience with driving school: you are supposed to know how before you go!

Exact same damn thing happened to me. I took drivers' ed through my high school and had to take behind-the-wheel twice because neither I nor my parents knew that they were supposed to be teaching me beforehand (after all, isn't that what DRIVERS' ED is for?).

I don't necessarily think that should convince COD not to go that route with his/her kid, but I would suggest telling whatever professional s/he hires from the get-go that this kid has VERY limited experience and that the expectation is that the instructor, not the parent, will do the teaching.

As for handy tips, the one thing my father told me that I never forgot was "wipers on, lights on." There are too many people who don't do this, IMHO, and it can be really dangerous if folks can't see you when it's raining. I'll be telling my stepkids this--and really punching SAFE FOLLOWING DISTANCE--when it comes time for them to learn.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:25 AM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just an extra anecdote for you on Why You Should Leave Teaching To The Pros:

When my mom taught me how to drive (in addition to a professional driving course; she thought I needed extra practice) she kept insisting on some elaborate hand shuffle movements when turning. "If you're turning right, first you use your right hand to pull the wheel down, then if you need to turn more push with your left and shuffle your right up..." something like that, I don't even remember.

When I covertly watched her drive, it turned out she always only had her right hand on the wheel, right at the centre bottom gripping the spoke thing, and she usually turned by ... well ... turning the damned wheel with one hand on it. Sometimes she used both hands if it was a sharp turn, but usually one hand, and definitely no elaborate hand shuffle. She was trying to teach me something she only thought she did but didn't do routinely - the moment I asked her about it, both hands would go on the wheel, but not until then.

Needless to say I never mastered it.
posted by Xany at 9:33 AM on March 23, 2010

I wish my family had told me how to drive through traffic circles and roundabouts (hint: it involves turn signals). Not really their fault, they didn't know the next county over would suddenly put them everywhere.

I also wish they'd emphasized that the front end of the car turns out when you back out of a parking space (thus hitting the car next to you if you don't back out straight far enough first).

And I wish I'd had contacts instead of glasses when I was learning: so much more peripheral vision.

Btw, my whole family drives manuals and I now drive a manual, but I insisted that they let me learn in an automatic. I was much happier for it. I learned how to drive a manual later, after I knew how to drive, period.
posted by anaelith at 9:44 AM on March 23, 2010

I learned on a manual but took the test in another car (with an auto), which irked me because I wasn't used to it.

I'm going to try to teach my kids how to ride a bicycle in traffic without getting killed. If they survive I figure they'll make decent drivers.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 1:18 PM on March 23, 2010

Any idiot (almost) can pilot a car without hitting anything. Very, very few people seem to know when they have the right of way, where to park, how to signal before switching lanes.

The teaching of these things is best left to professionals.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:20 PM on March 23, 2010

I'm 21 and I've had my learner's permit since pretty much as soon as I was old enough to get one (which in NZ is 15.)

I still haven't taken a test and I haven't driven in years because the idea is completely stressful and panic-inducing.

My dad fancies himself a fabulous driver and so he insisted that he would teach me to drive, even though I felt I was too young and too likely to make mistakes which might be dangerous to other people on the road. I felt and still feel that I knew my limits regarding concentration and focus and all of that and that I wasn't ready yet.

So anyway, we did a few drives which were very stressful, which is probably normal, but he made each lesson about 2 hours long, which was way way way too long for me and I ended up crying at the end of some of them. Then about the fifth or sixth time out there was a near miss when a dog ran out in front of me and I was slow to react and very nearly didn't brake in time. I was really shaken and upset and wanted to stop but he said no, I should just keep driving.

I pulled over, refused to drive any further and haven't been in the driver's seat of a car since. Not only that but the fightiness over the driving issue with my father seriously damaged my relationship with him.

I'm glad you've marked the answers suggesting getting a professional to do this job as best. I think sometimes the parent isn't the best person to teach a kid to drive, and if you have doubts then go with the pro.
posted by narrativium at 4:54 AM on March 24, 2010

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