How do I know it's time for my teen to drive alone?
For many parents, the thought of their teen driving a vehicle alone can be terrifying. However, watching them drive away for the first time is practically unavoidable. It’s part of the growing up process. So, how do you prepare for your teen becoming a licensed driver? Through practice - lots of practice.
In the state of Pennsylvania, after your child has earned their Initial Learner’s Permit, they are required to complete 65 hours of adult-supervised skills training, including 10 hours of night time driving and 5 hours of bad-weather driving. However, this should be the very minimum. Wherever you live, don’t just assume that the state requirements are enough. It’s always better to be more thorough than to do the minimum. Use this time to guide, educate, and encourage your teen driver to make responsible, educated, safe driving decisions.
Many parents let their teen drive them home from their Learner’s Permit exam at the DMV. While this is an exciting moment in your teen’s life it is not the place to begin their driver’s training! The Learner’s Permit only means that they are now legally qualified to learn how to drive.
The absolute best place to begin teaching your teen how to drive is in a large, open, empty parking lot. Ensuring that your teen knows the foundations of driving in a safe, confined environment will increase both your and their own confidence in their driving ability. You’ll both be more comfortable when it’s time for them to join drivers on the road.
Many parents have never had to teach someone how to drive before and quickly realize that things that come naturally to a seasoned driver have to be explained to a brand new driver. This is one reason I developed the Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers - to help parents learn to be better coaches for their teens.
After your teen has learned and practiced the basic skills necessary to drive, you can begin to focus on gaining experience. They should begin practicing in calm, daylight conditions. As your teen driver gains experience driving in calm conditions, they can begin driving at dusk and dawn, at night, in heavy traffic, during inclement weather, and through construction zones, as their skills increase and they are comfortable.
Education and lots of practice with adult supervision are the best ways to prepare your teen to drive alone. When it comes time though, you might still be wondering if your teen is ready to take the test and get their license. First, I remind parents that just because your new teen driver can pass the test, doesn’t mean they are ready to drive on the roads by themselves.
At this point, I tell parents and guardians to ask themselves, “Do I think my teen is ready to be driving on the roads by themselves?” If there’s any hesitation - that’s your answer.
If you aren’t completely sure your teen is ready, then they aren’t. Don’t rush into letting your child drive alone because this is one area where there can be serious, even deadly consequences if they are not ready. It’s okay to take longer than the prescribed amount of time the state sets. What matters is that your teen is a safe, aware, and responsible driver.
If you’re just getting started teaching your teen how to drive, be sure to grab your free copy of the Safe Driving Coach Parent's Guide: First Time Driving Behind the Wheel Checklist.