How to coach your new teen driver

(published in Westworld, May 2013)

It seems like only yesterday you were taking the training wheels off his bike, yet here is your teen in the driver’s seat of your family car, awaiting direction. Even if your teen is registered in driver education, AMA recommends 30 to 50 hours of supervised in-vehicle coaching on top of course instruction. So where do you start?

First, you should be fairly confident that you could pass the learner’s test yourself. If you’re anything like the majority of Albertans, you probably couldn’t. In 2010, the AMA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Calgary asked more than 1,000 Albertans to take the learner’s exam. Only 11 per cent passed. So it’s a good idea to review the Alberta Driver’s Handbook before you begin. Then hone those skills not so easily gained from a handbook – patience and communication. Below, some tips on how to be a patient, effective driver coach.

  1. 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.
  2.  Make your trip a short one – 15 minutes or so – especially for the first few sessions. “If you try to go any longer, patience just goes out the window,” says Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. Also, choose a familiar route – say, to school or the grocery store.
  3. Set out to practise one skill at a time, such as starting and stopping, or turns. Trying to cover too much in one session can be overwhelming and lead to frustration.
  4. 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 didn’t notice a cyclist coming up alongside that yellow car.
  5. 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 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,” says Lang.
  6. Finally, be a good role model. Take stock of your own behaviour when you’re behind the wheel. We’ve all developed a few bad habits over time – perhaps we use colourful language or creative hand signals. Be aware of these things and try to correct them. The truth is, driving instruction starts much earlier than the teens, says Lang. “As soon as you turn that rear-facing car seat forward, you’re teaching your son or daughter how to drive.”

Ready to take your road test? AMA now offers road test scheduling at all AMA centres across Alberta. Learn more about road test scheduling.

– by Shauna Rudd


Westworld is the award-winning magazine of the Alberta Motor Association. It offers a mix of travel features, auto trends and special member savings.