How To Learn How To Drive – Lessons From A Patient Dad Teaching His Son

Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.
~ Mac McCleary

How to learn how to drive is the object of this post. I’d like to think of myself as a patient dad trying to teach his 15 year old son how to drive, but he might have a difference of opinion on that one!

I remember when I was learning how to drive which was in South Africa quite a number of years ago where we drive on the left side of the road that things were a little different. You can only get your driver’s license in SA when you’re 18. But I had been driving since I was 12 or 13 – well, at least pretending to drive since then.

My father would let me sit up front in the driver’s seat with him and let me steer as he controlled the gas and break pedals. It was an old automatic Mercedes Benz and I loved cruising around the neighbourhood that way. Sans seat belt I might add.

Oi vey, not that we went fast, but when I think about it now, I must have had armies of angels protecting me.

I had a motorcycle first because at 16 you could get a motorcycle license… yeah, that’s waaaay safer for a 16 year old! Anyway, flights of angels came to my rescue several times when I owned my motorcycle back then. Thank God for small mercies.

So I don’t recommend starting to teach your 12 or 13 year old to drive seated in your lap in the driver’s seat. It is also illegal 🙂

Okay, so what is the best way to learn how to drive and perhaps even teach someone how to drive?

By the book
You can buy the book on learning how to drive if you want, but most cities, provinces and states likely have either hard copy driver’s ed books or online driver’s ed materials that you can access. For example the California Department of Motor Vehicles has driver handbooks available in a variety of languages for download as PDFs to get you started learning.

So the first thing you need to do when you want to know how to learn how to drive or how to teach your son or daughter how to drive is have them read through all the rules of the road and the driver’s handbook that is available for free from your state DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).

It might also be a great idea for you to re-read the rules of the road too. Most of us – and this is unfortunate – develop poor habits after we’ve been driving for several years or more. So you need to be a good example.

After both of you have a good handle on the rules of the road then take your young driver out on the road with you as a passenger. Practice good driving habits as you do this. Talk to them about the signs you see and what they mean. Tell them why you’re slowing when you come to a yield or stop sign. Why you stop before the first stop line etc, etc. Talk to them about proceeding carefully through intersections and obeying the traffic rules, signals and laws.

Ask them questions as you drive. Ask them to talk you through what they would do if they were in the driver’s seat.

I also recommend buying a “student driver” magnetic card that you can put on your bumper during this phase as well as when your young driver actually gets behind the wheel. This makes it way less stressful for both you and other drivers as they understand why you might be going slower than normal or stopping longer at stop signs etc. Very much worth the few dollars for less frustration.

A license to learn
At this point your learner driver should start to feel comfortable understanding the rules of the road as well as the laws and traffic signals.

I would make it a habit at this point of taking them out on the road with you driving at least once a week. During this drive you drive by the book and discuss any situations that come up and keep discussing the rules and signals. Take different routes. Take country roads and highways. Mix it up.

Around this time your young driver who is learning to drive should and will take their learner’s test which is mandatory before they can start actually driving while you become the passenger. There should be no rush at this point but encourage them when they’re ready. The learner’s test is usually a 20 or so multiple choice online question exam taken at the DMV office.

With thorough studying of the materials and the driving experience as suggested above they should ace it.

Patience builds confidence
Some teenage drivers as well as other first time drivers will be more timid and cautious once they get behind the wheel. Others will be more courageous.

Work with the level of experience and confidence of the learner driver who you are teaching to drive. It is however always a good idea to encourage defensive driving over aggressive driving.

My son for example is a more naturally cautious person and so this is what we did.

When your new driver is just getting behind the wheel for the first time I’d make sure that they can practice for months first with an automatic before and if they decide they want to learn to drive a standard transmission car.

Also seek out quiet, large parking lots. Mall shopping parking lots are great for this purpose an hour or so after the mall has closed. I have also found that big church parking lots are terrific for this purpose too.

What you are trying to achieve with this aspect of driver education is just getting them used to steering and getting a feel for actually “driving” the car. They can’t and won’t be able to go too fast. Perhaps up to 20 or so miles per hour (30 to 35km/h).

During this training period get them to brake, do 3 point turns, park between the lines in parking bays as well as ace emergency braking. Now is also a great time to take some traffic pylons (cones) and let them practice parallel parking too.

One of the things I had my son learn was that I would tell him that I would yell stop randomly and with that cue he was to immediately apply the brakes and stop as fast and as hard as he could while keeping the car in a straight line.

I felt this was important for when we got into driving around town that he was trained to brake quickly and hard if I directed him to do so.

This part of the training can go on for many months depending on how comfortable your learner driver gets in handling the car and how comfortable you get with their skill. There is no point in rushing this part.

I would also try to find a big enough parking lot so that you can get them to work up to traffic speed which for these purposes is 30mph or 50km/h. This is helpful in getting them comfortable with managing a vehicle that is going at regular city speed driving.

No substitute for the real world
When you and your young driver are comfortable in driving around the parking lot and getting up to traffic speed, braking and steering, it is time to get them driving out in the real world.

Some beginning drivers will feel nervous with this and others will feel exhilarated and excited. Remember, to teach to the learner and within their comfort zone. However, if someone wants to learn how to drive then they will have to learn to overcome some anxiety when driving in traffic on city streets. This needs to be done if they want to learn how to drive.

Some of the difficulty with city driving in most of the Western World is that traffic congestion is becoming a problem. My solution to this is to take them driving at non-peak times and into the outer suburbs.

In the beginning take them driving during daylight hours until they are comfortable and then you can introduce them to nighttime driving.

I have found that in my city of around 1 million inhabitants that 7am to 8am Sunday morning driving is a great time to let them practice with quite a bit less traffic on the roads to boot. With the previous step and this one, letting them drive once or twice a week will help them grow their skills and confidence at a good pace.

After some weeks or months you should also get them driving some highways, driving through school and playground areas as well.

OPTIONAL: Drive the professional course
I highly recommend at this stage that you invest a few thousand dollars in getting your son or daughter enrolled in a driving course through the Automobile Association in your area. These might seem pricey but they are well worth it and will often give you deductions on their car insurance which can more than pay for the course within a year or two.

Plus, as much as we like to think we’re great drivers we might have led them astray on a rule or two.

Acing it like Mario Andretti
Now comes the driver’s test after which your learner driver who has learned how to drive thanks to your help will be able to get behind the wheel all by themselves – if they pass that is 🙂

By now you are probably very confident in their ability to drive and they are confident and comfortable behind the wheel. Let them drive themselves to the testing facility, perhaps practicing parallel parking and reviewing the rules with your help.

And what better gift for your new accomplished driver than the keys to a brand new Bugatti Veyron 😉 It’s only the fastest and most expensive production car out there! (2.5 seconds 0-60mph; $2.4 million)

A note for those on how to learn how to drive by yourself
If you are trying to teach yourself how to drive then here are a couple of pointers for you.

Ask some friends to take you out driving while you study your course materials and learn about the rules of the road. Alternatively take trips on transit and talk yourself through the traffic rules as you come across them. Mentally discuss what you see other drivers doing that are both good and bad.

Ask friends if you can borrow their cars to learn how to drive with them in the passenger seat. Worst case, by yourself a beater and use that as your friends take shotgun.

If you can’t do any of those then you might need to rely on your Automobile Association classes to learn how to drive once you have your learner’s license.

And above all else, remember that 99% or more of people who want to learn how to drive are able to do it. You can too. Remember, we’re part of the 99% 🙂 Just be confident, study hard and practice. It’s the way to become competent at anything.

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