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Driving lessons from the go-kart track to the highway

Teenagers are allowed to drive cars — real cars. We can’t master this important life skill for our children, but we can provide them with the tools they need to become excellent drivers.

teen driver

The learning curve

Jim Haberkorn has been teaching people to drive for many years and likens becoming an experienced driver to the three stages of becoming a lion hunter. The concept was developed by author John Hunter, who was a big-game hunter in Africa around the turn of the century.

“The three stages apply to anyone doing something relatively complex and dangerous,” Jim says, and they offer a pretty good description of your teen driver’s state of mind:

  • Fear. The new driver follows all of the rules and is scared to death.
  • Cockiness. The young driver gains some confidence and thinks he knows it all. Like a cocky lion hunter, he starts bending the rules and nearly gets himself killed.
  • Humility. The driver survives his close call and is now humble enough to know he has to follow the rules and experienced enough to apply them properly.

As concerned parents, we’re really hoping to stave off the cockiness stage and go straight to humility!

Distract-proof the car

If you’re not going to be in the vehicle with your young driver, then do what you can before she leaves.

“Distract-proof the vehicle,” advise the driving experts at General Motors. “These little things can make a world of difference on the road.”

  • Program your teen’s favorite stations into radio presets.
  • Arrange CDs or MP3s in an easy-to-reach place.
  • Connect cell phones to a Bluetooth connection or a hands-free calling system.

Retired California Highway Patrol lieutenant Michael Soubirous contributes to On The Road, a weekly traffic column, and he agrees that minimizing distractions helps new drivers concentrate on the road.

When you are in the car with your teen driver, “Keep conversations as short and quiet as possible,” cautions Soubirous. “Outside input can easily distract new drivers who are concentrating on their new skill.”

Sign up for race-car training

Brian Massie has been driving for 25 years and has numerous wins and a racing championship under his belt.

“Far and away the best thing a new (or seasoned) driver can do is attend a driving school hosted by their local regional chapter of the Sports Car Club of America,” Massie says. “I’ve attended two and become a better driver each time.”

Driving school — aka autocross or SOLO school — typically takes place over one or two days and costs less than $100. Techniques are taught in the classroom before drivers take the wheel in their own vehicles. Students drive one at a time with an instructor and learn to control their vehicles in emergency situations.

“One of the beauties of these schools is that drivers learn in their own vehicles, so they learn — in a safe environment — what their vehicle can do,” says Massie.

The result is a better, smoother and more attentive street driver.

More helpful car tips

Instant safety with a lower seat
Be road-trip ready
Tips for driving in the rain

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