Updated: Oct 19
One of a parent’s biggest fears is letting their freshly licensed teen driver take to the road completely alone. Especially if that parent was the main driving teacher, they may be wondering if they did enough to prepare their teen to drive solo.
Though parental worry is hard to stop completely, parents really do need to be confident in their teens’ ability to drive before they let them go off alone. The consequences of sending a poorly prepared teen driver out onto the road can be catastrophic. To help you gain confidence, real confidence in your teen’s safe driving skills, I’ve prepared this 2-part checklist. The first part is to evaluate your own job as a driving coach, and the second is a skills assessment to ensure your teen really has practiced multiple driving scenarios.
Did I Prepare My Teen Driver for the Road?
I recently mentioned what I call the driving bubble. This is the ultra-safe, predictable, and totally unrealistic method of restricting your teen’s driving practice to a very controlled environment. It seemed safe while you were teaching it, but when a teen whose only driving practice was in the bubble gets out into a real driving environment, the bubble experience becomes extremely dangerous. As a parent coaching your child through driving lessons, it’s important to review what skills you’ve been teaching and under what conditions.
Ask yourself the following to find out if you prepared your teen to get behind the wheel with safe driving skills, or if you need more practice time before they can head out alone.
Can my teen drive to the Montgomery Mall and back without any help? What about the King of Prussia Mall? Does my teen know both main and alternative routes to various destinations?
Can my teen driver read a map and plan a route? Would my teen be able to navigate home if GPS were to fail?
What is the longest distance my teen has driven? Was it long enough to recognize signs of fatigue or auto-pilot inattentiveness? Was there sufficient practice with highway driving, maintaining speed, changing lanes, and maneuvering on and off ramps?
Have we practiced multiple skills such as parking, changing lanes, recovering from a missed turn or exit, backing up, managing poor weather, or driving in construction zones? If I knew my teen driver would have to parallel park or drive in snow tomorrow, am I confident they could?
As we get closer to their license eligibility, do I recognize a significant improvement in driving skills? Am I correcting less, reminding less, answering fewer questions, and generally more confident sitting next to them in the car?
Answer these questions carefully and thoughtfully to determine if you have done your job of teaching safe driving skills so that your teen is prepared to take the license exam and then drive on their own. If you need more time, take more time. If reading these questions has made you realize that you haven’t really been teaching the necessary skills, check out our free checklist for teaching your teen driver. And if you still need more help, check out our Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers to improve your coaching skills.
Safe Driving Skills Checklist for Teen Drivers
As your teen driver’s coach, you’ve covered all the safe driving skills. But how well did your child learn? This next checklist is a skills assessment you should run through with your teen before you schedule their driver’s license test, and especially before you allow them to drive without any supervision. Your teen:
Understands how the vehicle works, where all foot and hand controls are, and what each visual means
Has practiced in a large parking lot with plenty of room to maneuver and learn vehicle handling
Has practiced backing up straight and with turns
Has driven through neighborhoods and is on the lookout for driveways, pedestrians, school buses, and temporarily parked delivery vehicles
Knows where to look while driving, checks the mirrors, is aware of surroundings, and scans the road
Knows the rules of the road, understands who has the right of way, and is conscientious with other drivers
Has practiced in rain, snow, low sun, and night driving conditions
Has practiced highway driving with exit and on-ramp merges and has navigated without GPS guidance
Has driven in construction zones, knows what to do when emergency vehicles are at work, and understands the move-over law
Is prepared to handle deer and other driving hazards
Understands how to be conscientious of motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, farm vehicles, and horse-drawn buggies
Knows how to handle being pulled over by police or navigating through a checkpoint
This seems like a lot because it is a lot. You want your teen to become a highly experienced driver who safely navigates roadways for decades to come. Author Malcolm Gladwell said, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” Practicing safe driving skills repeatedly and with attention to improvement will make your teen a good driver, and that’s the goal.
It’s not really about letting your teen drive on their own. Sure, that’s an important rite of passage. But the real goal is making sure that when your teen is driving alone, they are doing so safely and confidently because they got the best start to becoming an experienced driver. If you feel like this is a bigger task than you’re really prepared to handle, we can help! Safe Driving Coach lessons will help your teen learn the skills necessary for a lifetime of safe driving.