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Teaching your children to drive can be stressful for even the most patient of parents, so it pays to do plenty of preparation first. Research by the AA found that one in 20 people think getting into the passenger seat with their learner child behind the wheel is more stressful than giving birth, getting through exams or dealing with illness.
Tempting as it may be to hand your child over to a professional instructor, many people simply can’t afford to fork out for lots of lessons, which means home tuition may be the only option. According to the RAC, the average learner needs 20 hours of practice to pass the driving test, in addition to 45 hours of driving lessons, which cost up to £25 an hour. Remember that to supervise a learner driver, you must have held, and still hold, a full UK licence for the vehicle you are teaching in, for a minimum of three years. You must also be over the age of 21, so if your child learner’s brother or sister volunteers to take them out for lessons, make sure they meet these legal requirements.
First and foremost, make sure you and your child are properly insured. Contact your insurer and let them know you will be taking your child out for lessons. If you don’t, you risk having your cover invalidated in the event that something goes wrong while they are behind the wheel. Once you’ve got your cover sorted, the first thing you should do if re-familiarise yourself with the Highway Code. Chances are if you passed your test many years ago, you’ll have forgotten some of your driving theory, so it pays to do a bit of swotting up. Your child will have to sit a theory test before their practical driving test, so the better you know your Highway Code, the more you will be able to help them with this.
Back to basics
Always talk through the basics with your child before letting them take the wheel, and emphasise the importance of staying safe. You will need to let them know that you might need to act decisively to prevent an accident, but this doesn’t mean you are angry with them. Why not see if you can find a large and near-empty car park where they can first experience being in control of the vehicle? And if you’re venturing onto the road, think about your route and the time of day – quiet roads outside rush hour seems a good starting point.
I would, however, advise against my father’s opening gambit when he was teaching me, which was; “A car is the most powerful weapon you’ll ever have in your hands. If you’re ever going to kill anyone, it will be with this.” While this might be true, twenty years on I’m still a nervous driver.
Keep calm and carry on
Even though it might be extremely frustrating when your teenager doesn’t seem to be listening to your instructions, do your best to keep your cool. One of the biggest difficulties parents face is that they don’t have dual controls, which means a lot of foot-pumping on imaginary pedals when things don’t go as you’d like them to.
Your natural instinct might be to grab the wheel from your child, but losing your temper while they are behind the wheel could be extremely dangerous. If they are making mistakes, get them to pull over so you can discuss where they were going wrong. The calmer you are, the more successful your lessons are likely to be. When you start to feel your stress levels rising, it’s therefore a good idea to try and think about how you would feel in your child’s shoes – a little bit of empathy can go a long way.
Practice makes perfect
Try to commit to regular lessons that aren’t spaced too far apart. This means there won’t be the opportunity for your child to forget what they’ve learnt. You should also try, once they’re competent and confident, to take them on as many different roads and routes as possible so that they have as broad an experience as possible. Remember that learning to drive is a slow process, so you’ll need to give lessons over a period of many months before your child is likely to be ready to take their practical test. Have you any experience of teaching your offspring to drive? Or indeed, were you taught by your mother or father, or an older sibling? We’d love to hear your experience and suggestions in the box below…