The very idea of helping your children with their driving can strike fear and anxiety for many parents. Helping your child practise driving can be a lot of fun, but it can also be extremely challenging.
The best practice approach for anyone learning to drive is to in the first instance, take professional driving lessons from an NZTA approved driving instructor. This will ensure that as a parent you’re not passing on bad habits or outdated techniques to your child.
Learning to drive takes a lot of practice, however, and being someone’s driving mentor requires considerable patience, empathy and knowledge of what is needed to prepare them not only to pass their test but for them to become a safe and responsible driver.
It is almost always better to practice in the car that they will be taking their test in - manual or automatic.
Before you start driving, sit in the stationary car and check your learner understands and has mastered the controls, mirrors and switches, has a comfortable driving position with the seat at the right height, the steering wheel adjusted to be comfortable and being able to reach and operate the pedals correctly.
Find a place where there is no traffic, such as an unused car parking area, and practice moving off, stopping and turning. Always make sure that before moving off that “mirror, signal, manoeuvre” becomes a good habit. When you think you are both ready move onto a planned and familiar route with little or no traffic.
As your learner driver improves their ability to control the vehicle in easy road conditions, start to introduce more challenging, complex driving conditions to improve their observation, reactions and thinking skills.
As a supervisor you should also be driving the car, in your mind, from the passenger seat. Look well ahead and use your experience to coach your learner driver on potential hazards and the correct action to take if you think they have not recognised it.
At the end of each practice session, spend some time reviewing what went well, what didn’t go so well and what to include in the next practice session as a result. Try and keep your feedback session relaxed, and consider taking notes to give to your child’s professional driving instructor at their next lesson.
How much practice
It is recommended that a minimum of eight hours professional tuition is supplemented with as much practice with a mentor as possible. As a guide, 100 hours of practice is recommended before taking the full driver licence test.
It is important for your learner driver to repeat the new actions and manoeuvres they learn over and over again until they become second nature. However, this alone will not make them a competent safe driver.
They also need to become observant to potential hazards and be able to respond quickly and safely to unexpected hazards. Test knowledge by asking your learner driver to describe out loud the hazards they observe and what actions they are taking to respond safely.
Research has shown that the more practice learner drivers get, the safer they will be after passing the test. It's a tough message but with motor accidents being the single biggest cause of death in young people between the ages of 17 and 24 getting the right start behind the wheel is essential.
When your learner has practiced on their learner licence for six months, it could be time to take the restricted practical test. To make sure they are ready, it’s a good idea for them to have some refresher driving lessons with a professional instructor and/or take a simulated restricted practical test with an instructor which will help them prepare for the real thing.
Defensive driving is a key skill for any driver and taking the AA Defensive Driving Course is a great way for restricted driver licence holders to up their skill levels, improve safety and be prepared for their full licence test.
Five top tips for a positive mentoring experience
1. Remember your aim is to help your child become a responsible driver. When coaching them, don't talk down to them or address them like a child. Avoid negative character comments such as "You're making me a nervous wreck”. Instead, take a learner-centric approach, e.g. by asking your child, “What can you see here?” or “What risks can you see at the intersection ahead?”
2. Praise specific progress and improvement, while offering non-judgmental, optimistic encouraging words such as "You're remembering to signal almost every time now and soon it will become second nature to you", or "Well done!".
3. If your son or daughter makes a mistake, try to keep an even tone to your voice with your comments making them aware of the mistake, rather than making them feel guilty. For example, if you notice the car's speed is increasing, rather than pointing out that your teenager is breaking the law, ask them, "Do you know what the speed limit is on this road?"
4. Try to focus on the action required rather than the desired result. If your child panics when approaching a traffic light or another situation, screaming to slow down is unlikely to help. Instead, advise them to calmly "press the foot brake". .
5. Say things in a positive way. E.g. "don't go too near to the parked cars" puts attention on the parked cars and increases the likelihood of the driver getting close whereas "Keep well towards the centre of the road and look well ahead" takes attention away from the parked cars and is more likely to have the desired effect.