photo: Susan Chiang/iStock

Tips for Teaching Your Teen to Drive

By Shauna Rudd

It seems like only yesterday you were taking the training wheels off his bike, yet here’s your teenager in the driver’s seat of your family car, awaiting direction. Even if your teen is registered in a driver education, AMA recommends an additional 30 to 50 hours of supervised in-vehicle coaching to reinforce the skills and knowledge imparted by course instruction. So how do you ensure those in-car hours are as valuable (and as stress-free) as possible?

Your son or daughter had to pass a knowledge test to obtain a Class 7 learner’s permit. Could you pass the same test? Even if you can score high marks on this practice exam, it may be a good idea to review the Alberta Driver’s Handbook. Getting reacquainted with the rules of the road will help you better advise your teen as he or she begins to navigate diverse driving situations.

Talk about what you both hope to accomplish during the driving session before you hit the road, and set clear expectations. The more you keep the discussion open, the less chance there will be for misunderstandings, which is when things tend to go south. If your teen is enrolled in an AMA Driver Education Program, the report card they receive after each in-car training session can be useful for identifying skills to reinforce and improve upon.

Scheduling shorter practice sessions—15 minutes or so—is best, says Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. “If you try to go any longer, patience just goes out the window.” Further focus the training by agreeing to work on one skill at a time, such as starting and stopping, changing lanes or turning.

Choose a familiar route for your initial trips: to and from school, for example, or the grocery store. Once you and your teen have built up some confidence on the road, consider helping them gain experience in specific conditions, like downtown driving, or driving on gravel roads, or driving in the rain.

Have your new driver communicate what she plans to do before she does it. For instance, if you’re practising a left-hand turn across traffic, have her tell you when she’s going to turn (“after the yellow car, I’m going to go”). This way you can judge whether the manoeuvre is a good idea—maybe your new driver hasn’t noticed a cyclist coming up alongside that yellow car.

Stay out of parking lots. You might think they’re an ideal place to start because of the open space, but this is precisely why they’re not. Beginners need to practise scanning their surroundings and driving in a straight line. “If you’re on a quiet residential road, where they can look forward two or three blocks, they can focus on where they want to go,” Lang says.

We’ve all developed a few bad habits over time. Take stock of your own behind-the-wheel behaviour and try to correct it where necessary. The truth is, driving instruction starts much earlier than the teens: “As soon as you turn that rear-facing car seat forward,” Lang says, “you’re teaching your son or daughter how to drive.”


Tools of the Trade: Think you and your teen are ready to hit the road? AMA has a free, comprehensive set of coaching resources to help you and your young driver make the most of your in-car experience.

Safe Performance Value Program: Have you already mapped out an extensive driver-training schedule with your teen? Consider AMA’s new Safe Performance Value Program to complement their practice sessions. This course focuses on learning the rules of the road, with less in-car instruction than other AMA offerings. Students benefit from 18 hours of classroom learning or 15 hours of online study, plus four hours in-vehicle with an AMA driving instructor. Note, however, that this program does not provide a course completion certificate or insurance discount.