October 20 to 26 is Teen Driver Safety Week making it the ideal time to talk about the issues that are unique to teen drivers these days. Distracted driving is a big one. The lure of Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram make learning to drive an extra challenge – and more dangerous.
Keeping your teen driver engaged and alert on the road starts long before they get their G2, and here are some techniques for teaching good road habits, that also help keep your teen engaged on the task at hand.
I can talk until I’m blue in the face about all the things you can do to improve your children’s chances of a successful driving career but the first and most important thing is this: Enroll them in a driver’s training course. A professional and accredited driving instructor will make a world of difference to your new driver. These professionals have countless hours of experience teaching people how to drive and know exactly how to make sure each individual gets the instruction they need to succeed on the road. It’s worth the money that is usually offset later on with lower auto insurance rates thanks to an insurance discount for taking, and passing, driver’s training.
All parents know that the best results come from spending time with their kids. Quality time with your kids helps them thrive. The same is true when they’re learning to drive. Quality time while you’re the passenger and they’re behind the wheel can help them thrive as a driver.
I advocate getting the basics down with a professional, and then after a few lessons, spending as much time as possible in the car with your kid. Here, the key is to be gentle, calm, authoritative but not authoritarian. Have your kids drive you to the store for errands, giving them the opportunity to drive under your instruction on familiar routes and then spend time debriefing afterwards.
Find out what they struggle with, what makes them nervous, and talk through how to solve those problems. Bring the professional instructor into those conversations too if you need or want to.
More than a corporate buzzword, gamification is a proven way to engage people in a task and solidify concepts and ideas. It’s why quizzes are so popular on Facebook, and part of the reason rewards programs with various levels of rewards are so powerful. It can work when you’re teaching your teen to drive too.
My favourite technique is the “what colour car is to your left” game. While your teen is driving, ask them what colour car is behind, to their left, or right. The rule is they can’t look in their mirror, they have to already know. This helps them get in the habit of regularly scanning their surroundings, so they know who and what is around at all times.
You can do it before they drive even. Let’s say you’re on a highway and approaching an on-ramp – the first person to call out the colour of any car that’s on the ramp and about to merge onto the highway wins. Why does this matter? It helps your teen get used to anticipating what’s happening around them and therefore makes them better drivers on the road.
Driving Score Apps
Many modern cars have in-built driver scoring apps. BMW has a star system, while the MINI has a hilarious fishbowl where the fish gets happier the more smoothly you drive, and sadder the more aggressively. Most cars built in the last two or three years have eco scores as well that hint at driving behaviours.
You can use these tools to measure your teen’s ability to accelerate, brake, and steer smoothly. The best way to get a high score on these apps is to anticipate and predict the flow of traffic. Responding early to slowing cars ahead and coming to gentle stops at traffic lights are rewarded with a better score. These apps focus your attention by giving your brain the same type of reward you get from a “like” on Instagram.
Some of these scores are tied to fuel economy too. Consider giving your teen a financial reward towards fuel for every time they complete a journey under a certain mileage figure. Because saving fuel means driving smoothly, it helps focus new drivers on the task at hand.
Wait, what? There are phone apps now that let you put your phone away in the car, and they will use GPS and their in-built accelerometers to measure driving. At the end of the drive, they’ll give you a score.
Prove the Case
Driving distracted is not only more dangerous, it’s actually slower. This part is counter-intuitive but trying to multi-task behind the wheel actually makes you later to your destination – and you can prove it. Find a large, open space. Set up some cones in different locations and build a small scavenger hunt course. I’ve used parking lots and numbered cones. I’ll give a task like, “drive to cone 9, reverse park, then drive to cone 36”. If you time your teen throughout all these tasks, and make them do some runs with zero distractions, some runs with distractions, all in a safe and secure location, you can prove your point.
Show them the Money
It costs a lot of money to run a car. It costs a lot more if you have regular crashes or damage. You can take your teen through the costs of crashing. Make them save up for a deductible to put aside, explain the impact of a collision or even a ticket on your car insurance. Tickets stay on your record for three years and can impact your premium by as much as 25 percent for a major traffic infringement, and up to 100 percent for a criminal conviction like DUI. Crashes stay on your record for six years and can cause your premiums to rise up to 100 percent. Those numbers alone are sobering for many teens.
I’ve used all the techniques and tools above to teach friends, cousins, and colleagues how to drive, but the best way to teach your teen to focus on the road is to model that behaviour. If you find yourself tempted by your phone when you’re driving, remember who is watching.
My daughter is currently 9 years old. I make a point of saying out loud, “where should I put my phone before I start driving?”
“Away, Dad!” is always the answer I get.
Model good behaviour on the road and you’ll be more likely to see that behaviour from your kids.
Be a Taxi
There are times in anyone’s life where they find themselves in a bad spot. If your child is out with friends and realizes that driving is a bad plan – maybe it’s because they’re exhausted or couldn’t resist that Jello shot at the party. It could be a massive argument with a boyfriend or girlfriend that has left them feeling fractured and emotionally volatile.
In these times it’s important they have an alternate solution. Whether it’s an Uber account, or the ability to call you or your spouse for a ride you need to give your kids the tools to leave the car behind when they need to without judgement.
Do it Together
Road safety is literally a life-and-death matter. It is critical that all of us assess, re-assess and tune-up our driving skills on a regular basis. The great news is that not only does working with your teen driver to get them up to speed on the road improve their chances of a safe and uneventful career behind the wheel, but it improves your own driving too.
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