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According to Right Brain

Pedal to the Metal

What we think about when we teach teenagers to drive.
Student Driver
Published on March 4, 2011 : 6 comments

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Today our youngest got her learner’s permit at the DMV. I’m calling her “Danica” to help protect her privacy and to describe her lead-foot driving. (If you don’t know who Danica Patrick is, she is a race car driver who has a lot of long hair like our daughter and I assume she also has a lead foot because of her career choice.) 

Our “Danica” has driven a few times around parking lots prior to today, but not much. She got her teenage body out of bed EARLY, even though there is no school today, to get down to the DMV to get her learner’s permit. I am waiting for her in the next room while she is taking her test. She comes out grinning—she aced it.

We plunk down $10.50 for the learner’s permit and I joke, “Do you want to drive home?” She scares the crap out of me while she considers my question! Thank goodness “Danica” declines the offer. But on the way home she is bugging me to go driving. I promise—after I work for a bit and see how much I can get done—that maybe we can go.

Of course we go driving.

Danica” drives in and out of neighborhoods for a while. I keep my right foot up against the side wall so she can’t see me reflexively braking. I will myself not to grip the arm rest. After an hour, I announce that I need to go to the grocery store. I am assuming we will switch spots. “Danica” says, “Okay, let’s go.” I can tell she is nervous, but she drives down a busy street, stoplights and all. We park in the store parking lot—far away from everybody. Talk about feel-the-fear-but-do-it-anyway! Our 15-year-old just reinforced that lesson for me. And I thought I was the one doing the teaching.

Pumping GasFast forward a few weeks. “Danica” is getting better all the time. We have figured out all the different left-hand-turn scenarios (double-left-turn lanes, left-turn arrows, etc.). We have driven 45 miles per hour on several busy streets during rush hour. We still need to practice lane changing and merging. My urge to grip the arm rest is almost gone. 

I find that I now need to “rob Peter to pay Paul” to accommodate the increase in gas prices along with our increased consumption. We go driving EVERY day after school. That isn’t in my monthly budget. 

Here are some tips on teaching a teenager to drive by eHow’s Countrymom:

  1. Your son or daughter will need a learner’s permit in order to even practice driving. You will need to have a driver’s handbook for your state of residence and be prepared to take the written test in most states to obtain a learner’s permit. Call your local Department of Licensing to find out fees and locations for your area.
  2. Danica PatrickAfter your teen has a learner’s permit, they are going to want to drive. Call your insurance company and find out the procedure for adding your teen to your insurance policy.

    In some cases, your teen may drive as long as you are in the car without being officially added onto your policy. It will depend on your insurance company as to this policy so always be sure to make the call and find out before your teen is practicing behind the wheel.
  3. Go over the equipment with your teen prior to his or her getting behind the wheel.

    Make sure they know exactly where the gas pedal is and the brake as well as turn signals, emergency flashers, windshield wipers, emergency brake and seat adjustments. 

    Don’t forget to discuss road signs as well. They will need to understand what the various signs mean such as curve ahead or yield.
  4. Start your teen out driving slowly and in residential neighborhoods rather than on a busy highway. As they become more comfortable with this you can gauge when they are ready to go out on the open highway.
  5. Practice one concept at a time to keep learning easier. Example: practice right turns only on one day and left turns on the next.
  6. Make your teen your chauffeur and give them plenty of practice. The more opportunity they have to practice, the better driver they will be. Remember when you were learning how to drive? Give them the opportunity to learn and become comfortable as a driver and encourage safe driving practices while they are young.
  7. Discuss your expectations about driving with them gently but firmly. During drives is often a good time to discuss this as they are a “captive” audience and will be more apt to listen.
  8. Keep lessons short at first. 30 minutes at a time is plenty to start out with and is less stressful on you and your teen.
  9. Enroll your teen in a drivers education course prior to allowing them to get their permanent license. This will reduce insurance rates and the extra experience your teen gets in this class will greatly benefit his or her driving skills.

Red VW BugFunny how things come around again. My very first article on was a humorous account of driving my VW bug vs. overaggressive SUV drivers. Now I am writing about turning control of my beloved VW bug over to “Danica.” I have a mixed bag of feelings—but they include pure excitement that I will have more freedom soon as she gains a lot more independence…as well as pride in seeing that our baby is growing up. 

I’ll leave you with this funny car crash video. Looking forward to hearing your own driving stories. Thanks SO much for reading!

AnnDbugzAnn Troe (@AnnieDoodlebugz) is graphic designer and illustrator.


Dad (not verified) says:

March 4, 2011 : 13 years 15 weeks ago

Dad's picture

Seems to jog some things in the back of my memory. Parking lot driving, backing up, parking and graveled lots and roads.


AnnDbugz says:

March 4, 2011 : 13 years 15 weeks ago

AnnDbugz's picture

Hey Dad!
I remember you telling me drive home the first day! I was scared! ;-) But really appreciated the “just do it” approach.

Jo M. Lynch (not verified) says:

March 6, 2011 : 13 years 15 weeks ago

Jo M. Lynch's picture

LOL…. Wonderful story and everyone has pretty much gone through it or they will. I appreciate very much seeing the world through Danica’s eyes…and Mom’s. I’m not even certain I could do it again. I’d put a hole through the floor where the imaginary brake is for sure. Kudo’s for you for keeping your brake foot hidden as much as possible.

When I got my drivers license, it was time to drive home (now my job)… and our DMV was on the other side of a long tunnel going under the Baltimore inner Harbor. I had NOT tried a tunnel yet, and thought nothing of it until I got inside and felt it closing in on me. I griped the wheel so hard, I’m sure there are handprints on it yet…

Luckily we pretty much all survive the beginning driving lessons and thanks to patient Mom’s like you, there will be lots of future drivers of America ready to teach when it’s their turn… Thanks for reminding us of how important those first days of driving are to the “student”… Like a rite of passage. You go Danica! :)
Safe driving…. Jo :)

AnnDbugz says:

March 6, 2011 : 13 years 15 weeks ago

AnnDbugz's picture

Hey Jo!
“Danica” loves your comments and says “Thanks”.

Kathy Arends (not verified) says:

March 10, 2011 : 13 years 14 weeks ago

Kathy Arends's picture

Oh Ann, does this bring back memories. I vividly remember the knots in my stomach when our “Danica” started driving. The first time she drove down Maple Street, I thought I was going to have a stroke! I love having her drive me around now, although even to this day, I hit the imaginary brake! Another great article.

AnnDbugz says:

March 11, 2011 : 13 years 14 weeks ago

AnnDbugz's picture

Thanks Kathy!
Your “Danca” is fabulous! - I really appreciate you reading and sharing my articles.