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How to Teach a Teen to Drive

My daughter just completed her classroom instruction required to get a learner’s permit in our state. Next is the in-vehicle driving instruction that will take place over a couple of days. After that, we’re on our own as far as formal driver’s ed goes and onto the practice drives where the parent is in the car guiding the education and coaching. That’s a lot of responsibility and something I’ve known about for awhile but am just now starting to fully comprehend. I guess what little “parental intuition” I have actually kicked in. A few thoughts and questions came to mind:

  1. There are quite a few ways to do this that probably have varying degrees of success

  2. There are some serious consequences to doing this wrong

  3. I wonder what the best approach is - while being relatively easy and inexpensive.

Yes, it’s my kid but why not try and keep things simple and affordable if possible? So, I set out to learn a little about how I might get to this better place of above-average teen driving instructor / parent.

Drivers License - Teen Driver from State Farm CC by 2.0

Do you really care?

That may sound a little harsh but you might have some hurdles to overcome to do this right as a parent. After all, your transition into a driving instructor may be much like coming off the bench and being forced into the big game all of sudden. It’s peculiar how we can easily spend time practicing a sport and researching the options for a big purchase or job opportunity but spend very little time preparing how to educate a teen to drive. I’m as guilty as the rest of us. If it is so important, why do we not get more prepared? Teachers get a four year degree from a university with on-the-job internships along the way to get fully prepared.

Without spending too much time on this, one key driver is the instinctive behavior known as the pleasure principle by psychologists. I’m not talking about any specific pleasure here but just the general idea that people are biased toward actions that provide some pleasure vs all the other options. The odds of your teen being in an accident are relatively high but, based on your current accident avoidance rate, you are not in mindset to react and protect. As it is only a threat of an accident, we’re wired to not do much unfortunately even though we know of the importance more than likely. Even for the highly productive folks out there (you know if I’m talking about you), it’s so much easier to work on something that we want in our life such as a new car, new house, new job (status). We want to believe that our teen will become a good driver no matter how we go about it and that they will be fine and not experience a horrific accident.

Once you are in the vehicle and realize that your teen has your life in their hands, maybe you will truly consider doing something to improve the probability of success. If so, let’s consider your teen’s personality next.

Teen Personality Matters

Without doing too much research, my gut says my daughter’s personality can really influence how this goes. To choose the right tools and tactics though, it can help to understand your teen’s personality and how they learn. Some people learn best in groups and others individually for example. While you may not have the results of a personality test like Myers-Briggs, you can probably predict fairly accurately where they fall on the spectrum of being introverted or extroverted.


For introverted, you might consider individual driving lessons to make sure they are not distracted or nervous about having other students along for the ride. If extroverted, they could do best in a classroom with a lot of interaction and Q&A. You might purchase additional solo or group driving lessons depending on their personalities too. That can work well for any personality type.

Male vs Female:

Then there is different take on driving safety for a boy vs a girl. My daughter will be irritated by this comment as she focuses on equality (even if this one favors girls) but the stats say that teen males are experiencing twice as many fatal crashes than teen females. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that males are twice as likely to have acted aggressively before an accident in general than females. I know I’m encouraging my daughter to speed up to stay safe which I never expected. Neither did others it seems.

I also have noticed that sensory overload can be an issue for certain personalities. Fewer passengers and input can help. Don’t provide too many points back to back or it can overwhelm. Also, stay positive as self-confidence can wane and let the fear overtake the excitement of learning how to drive and of being alert enough to be prepared to react to an unexpected event.

A clear introduction to the process in the early stages before starting the Graduated Driver License GDL or learner’s permit practice can really help make sure all personalities understand the intent and value of the practicing without pushing them over the edge into the world of rebelling.

Selecting a Driving School

The teen’s personality can play a factor in the driving school selection too. In my case, there were not many options nearby but if you have options, I recommend finding a school that leverages technology in their courses. Some even talk about the outcomes from their program and how their students are safer. A large driving school franchise, Fresh Green Light, even shows how their approach results in a lower accident rate than the national average (disclaimer: they use the mobile app from my company).

If possible, get input from parents that have had teens go through a program at schools you are considering. Also read their reviews and ratings at Google and Facebook. If few ratings, they are likely a low-tech school which can be okay but might mean they are not using the latest techniques and tools. It can be important to understand which reviews are from parents and which are from teens. Both have a unique and important perspective to consider. Parents may be less concerned with how likeable and comfortable the course is and more focused on instilling a sense of responsibility and understanding of the risks. The importance of the instructor matters too. It’s more about their ability to “get through” to your teen than to be likeable. If they get respect and keep the classroom’s attention, they are more likely to get the key messages across.

A Little Psychology

Teens like to rebel. There is one particular flavor called reactance where a teen intentionally does what you tell them not to do out of spite. Sometimes parents can use reverse psychology to overcome it or even allow the teen to learn from their mistakes. But, can you imagine telling your teen to go out and drive fast while texting in hopes that they won’t. Obviously we learn best from our mistakes but let’s say there is a time and a place for that approach and this isn’t it.

So, what can you do? First, get a better understanding of why your teen is acting this way and general rules of engagement that won’t push them into reactance mode. Your teen is essentially transitioning from your control to their control and it isn’t always a smooth process. This is where technology can nicely come into play. If you tell your teen drive to use this app to improve, you are already going to be much more effective than the majority of parents that are saying don’t text and drive, speed, drink and drive and more. The brain sometimes doesn’t hear the “don’ts” or negativity so try and flip the script and go positive. Lean on technology to deliver any negative message at least in the beginning and to give your words more authority later if and when you might have to reinforce the message. Which technology to choose then becomes the next challenge. Some teens are more deceptive and manipulative than others and may need more of a fixed tracking solution to know what is going on at all times. Others are simply underdeveloped and immature about how they are consumed by their phones and accidentally drive distracted more than they realize. The final type is a stereotypical male that is trying to be cool and impress others and can feel the need for speed. I’m a little too familiar with this type which is, in part, why I’m trying to find a better way. My son turns 15 in a few short years.

Which Teen Driving App

There are quite a few tools in the psychology tool-box that can avoid the rebellious reactance or tuning out of your well-intentioned parental prodding. Some are the more constraining approaches like apps that block phones from texting while driving like LifeSaver. These can be great but maybe a bit harsh for many teens that are really trying to do the right thing but are still simply underdeveloped and learning to drive.

Life360 is another alternative that provides a good solution that automatically records all movement and messages the parent when they arrive or depart places of interest. This app will burn more battery and is a bit more intrusive as it is recording your location and phone movement all the time in the background.

MotoCarma is aimed at an earlier stage with a focus on a driving log, basic safety monitors and recommendations for improvement. The In-App-Purchase of Advanced Street Data can be added later for higher risk teens that speed and drive distracted but still is based on the honor-system and voluntary usage. This can be too little for some teens and just right for others.

Here is my summary of some leading apps for the different stages of learning combined with risks and personality characteristics:​

There is not really a one size fits all approach. And, feel free to use multiple apps simultaneously or throughout the teen driving years at different times. It’s really not too difficult to add an app, try it, learn and adjust. There are free versions and trials of all these apps listed.

Enhanced Learning

I’m not sure “enhanced” is the right word here but there are a number of ways to make sure your teen is not below average on the roads. There are online offerings that can enhance learnings for all types of personalities as well. From simulated scenarios to more case studies and quizzes, there are options that go beyond the typical 6-10 hour classroom course.

My daughter is fairly tech-averse in comparison to other teens but she still spends plenty of time on her mobile phone with apps and playing games on Xbox, etc. So, any type of technology assisted training should work well for about anybody. I guess there are those on the other side of the spectrum that want to spend too much time with technology. The good news is that I don’t believe there are any games out there that will be hard to put down at this point for driver’s ed.

Practice Prevents Accidents

There are tons of statistics on teen driving accidents but at this stage in the learning process, the impact of practice hours can be the most helpful. At the end of 70 hours of practice, you have effectively reduced the risks of a fatal accident by 4% in some states according to this calculator by IIHS. There are some other tips on curfews and passengers in this calculator that can come in handy later once your teen is starting to drive alone after the learner’s permit phase. We as parents are still legally responsible for them during this phase of learning.

Keep practicing and focus on a few key learnings each session without overdoing it. Be positive and clear in your reasoning for why certain rules or behaviors are important. The state of California has a nice checklist to make sure you have covered the basics. Your teen should be ready for the road after this but use your judgement on this. The intangibles around confidence and maturity level strongly play a factor in true readiness.

Do Something Summary

Seriously, do something to improve your probability of success and to avoid accidents. It’s worth it. It’s easy to agree with all this and never do anything or just meet the minimum requirements by your state. You might be tempted to cut corners as it does take time, patience and thought. But, there are ways to help with very little effort. To recap, here are my suggested actions in short:

  1. Commit to preparing your teen to be a safe driver. Envision the future and how it avoids the painful scenario of a premature teen driving death. May seem harsh but it’s important.

  2. Think about their personality and pick the tools and tactics to teach

  3. Introverted: self-study online courses, books

  4. Extroverted: group interactive courses with Q&A

  5. Simulators

  6. Mobile apps and tracking

  7. Record driving hours (Motocarma)

  8. Block phone use while driving

  9. Installed tracking (expensive)

  10. Go on practice drives, be a good coach and assess readiness

My Results

I interviewed my daughter to see what her thoughts were as we were going into this process. We talked right after she finished the 10 hours classroom training and before we started the practice hours. We are using multiple apps and also considering some enhanced courses. I’ll report back as we get farther along in accumulating practice hours.

Please comment if you have other ideas or thoughts on the approach. My daughter and I will be trying out some enhanced education options and reporting back later...Thanks for reading!

#Driversed #LearnersPermit #Teachingdriving

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