Driving tests

Tips for teaching your teen to drive

Here’s how to have a massive argument with your teen: start helping them learn to drive without first preparing.

If you are planning on teaching your teen to drive, the best option is to use a driver trainer, but you’ll still need to take them out on supervised drives to improve their skills and help them deal with the thousands of scenarios that can unfold behind the wheel of a car under different weather, light and traffic conditions.

Your teen will have passed a learner licence test. This means that they will have acquired some understanding of the road rules, but unless you’ve been making them an active passenger while you are driving, asking them to point out hazards and explain how they would drive, you’ll need to translate that theoretical understanding into real-world driving skills.

What to expect

Your teen will mirror the way you drive. If you have shown them poor examples of driving, they are likely to emulate this. You have to be very careful not to be hypocritical when being a driving coach. The worst habits are red light running, speeding, road rage

Your teen will either be way too overconfident or way too nervous. This is understandable, but can lead to fraught situations and a great deal of tension for you, the supervisor. Your role is one of coach. Where nerves are involved, you can be encouraging and ensure that you start in a safe place. Where over-confidence is the issue, raise awareness of potential scenarios and the outcomes.

Your teen will misjudge speed. We get used to judging speed based on road noise and also our perception. Your teen driver doesn’t have this experience yet.

Your teen will forget to look in the mirror. This has to become habitual. It’s a good idea to keep saying the word mirror every 10 seconds or so just to get them in the habit. This is how frequently good drivers check the mirror (subconsciously) when the traffic is busy.

Your teen will be overwhelmed after 15-20 minutes during their first drive. Keep your sessions short. It’s better to go out more frequently and for shorter drives than try to do a massive drive that will leave them dangerously fatigued.

Your teen will forget some of the road rules. This is understandable. They will have only learned the theory recently, and they are trying to apply those rules to real-world situations.

What to do

We’ve established above that you need to be giving your teen good examples of driving. Other tips are:

Don’t be too pushy. If your teen doesn’t feel ready to drive, or simply doesn’t want to, then it could be counterproductive to adopt a pushy attitude. Instead, explain the reasons why having a driver’s licence is important (job prospects, mobility, etc), and that it is essential to get it before going on an OE.

Make sure they’ve set the car up correctly. Ensure your teen has set the mirrors and seat correctly.

Start driving in dry weather in daylight in light traffic. Nighttime and rain make driving much more difficult. Stick with dry weather and daylight until your teen is confident, then move on to rain, fog, nighttime and other scenarios. If they are very nervous, starting in an empty car park is a great idea, especially for practice manoeuvring.

Make a plan. Work out a specific route, communicate this to your teen, and let them know what skills they will be working on. Point out specific hazards such as roundabouts and check that they remember the rules.

Be very clear with directions. Give your teen a lot of notice when you want them to make a manoeuvre such as changing lanes or turning left or right. Don’t use the word ‘right’ to indicate anything other than a direction; it’s best to use ‘correct’ or ‘correctly’ when referring to something done ‘right’. A big source of frustration for the driver is feeling too much under pressure.

Be vigilant. It’s your role to be aware of the surroundings as much as your teen. You can purchase a stick-on rear-view mirror to help you see what’s going on behind the vehicle. Be ready to take control if need be.

Praise specific actions. It’s best to give more praise than criticism and be specific about it.

Correct poor driving by asking questions. Rather than criticising or constantly badgering your teen with things they are doing wrong, ask them specific questions that draw it to their attention. For example, rather than saying, “You’re speeding again”, try saying, “What’s the speed limit on this road?”

Keep a logbook. To make sure that you’re covering all the skills, and giving your teen enough time behind the wheel, keeping a logbook of the dates and times you go out driving, along with some simple notes about progress, difficulties, weather conditions, challenges encountered, etc, helps your teen see their progress.

What are the essential skills your teen needs to learn when driving?

The vehicle

  • Filling it with fuel
  • Checking fluids
  • Dashboard warning lights
  • Mirror and seat position
  • Seat belts and airbags
  • Tyre inspection and inflation
  • Cleaning (particularly the glass)
  • Turning on the correct lights (park light, main beams, full beams)
  • Operating the air conditioning and demister (important to learn this before setting off!)


  • Reversing in a straight line, to the left, and to the right – check out the low-speed manoeuvring course for an excellent overview of this.
  • Starting smoothly
  • Braking to a stop smoothly
  • Hill starts
  • Shifting gears (in a manual)
  • Using the indicators to signal a manoeuvre
  • Navigating a corner with a changing radius (either tightening or widening)
  • Three-point turns
  • U-turns
  • Parallel parking
  • Angle parking
  • Bay parking (90 degrees)
  • Manoeuvring in tight spaces

Driving around others

  • Changing lanes
  • Negotiating t-intersections
  • Negotiating crossroads
  • Negotiating roundabouts
  • Merging
  • Rush hour driving on urban roads and motorways
  • Pedestrian crossings
  • Maintaining an appropriate gap to the vehicle in front
  • Maintaining awareness around the vehicle while driving
  • Keeping to the speed limit (including when the limit is reduced such as at road works)
  • Using appropriate speeds for hazards such as sharp corners, and observing suggested speeds
  • Crossing railway level crossings
  • Using the mirrors and checking blind spots
  • Driving courteously
  • Picking a safe gap

Advanced skills

Personal responsibilities

New drivers have several areas of responsibility

  • Financial: insurance, WoF, registration, car payments and keeping on top of preventative maintenance
  • Distractions: not using the phone, taking care when carrying passengers
  • Rules: sticking to the road rules so as not to accumulate demerit points
  • Passengers: considering the safety of others riding in the vehicle
  • Other road users: considering the safety of other people on the road, especially vulnerable ones (pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists)
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Darren has written over 3000 articles about driving and vehicles, plus almost 500 vehicle reviews and numerous driving courses. Connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking the name above

Posted in Advice, Driver licence