Over the last two months, I’ve documented the drives around Southern California that I used to teach my kids how to drive. There were a total of nine long drives, an overview and an introduction.
I didn’t have a teaching process when my first child was ready to drive. I stumbled upon one, somewhat by accident, while teaching her. The process worked so well for her that I continued using it with my other kids. Each time I revisited it, I refined and adjusted it to the final versions which I’ve shared here.
So with the drives documented, here are some parting thoughts and final words of wisdom to consider as you start the process of teaching your teenager how to drive.
If you’re joining late, here are the drives and posts that make-up the series. You’re welcome to start here, but this post may make more sense if you start from the beginning. You can also view all the posts in the archive on this page.
- The Overview
- The Introduction
- The Open Road
- Canyon Driving – Part 1
- Freeway Driving, Canyon Driving – Part 2
- Urban Driving – Part 1
- Freeway Driving, Canyon Driving – Part 3
- Canyon Driving – Final Exam
- Urban Driving – Part 2
- Urban Driving – Final Exam
- The Open Road – Final Exam
The essential driving skills
At the risk of simplifying the driving process, I like to categorize the essential driving skills into the following four categories. I use these categories to build and organize the long drives.
The open road
The goal of open road driving is to build confidence. For open road drives, I stay away from the freeways and congested city streets. I choose roads that are wide and straight(er) and avoid times of congestion or rush hour. The purpose is to limit distractions and challenges so the teen driver feels confident behind the wheel of a car.
The goal of canyon driving is to teach one how to handle a car. Canyon roads are more narrow. They have tight turns that teach cornering skills – setting a car up for a corner, moving through the corner, and effectively exiting it. The skills you learn handling a car through narrow, winding roads can be applied to nearly all other types of driving. It’s one of the best ways to teach a new driver the feel for a car and how to handle it.
The goal of urban driving is teaching one awareness of their surroundings and how to handle distractions. Urban driving means dealing with pedestrians, cyclists, and congestion. The driver needs to develop a strong sense of their surroundings and be prepared to expect the unexpected. People stepping out into traffic. Car doors openings. Cars stopping unexpectedly, making quick turns, or unexpected U-turns. Driving in congested areas requires focus, a heightened level of awareness, and the ability to anticipate the unexpected.
One of the most important skills a teen driver needs to learn, especially in Southern California, is freeway driving. The goal of freeway driving is to build the skills necessary to navigate high-speed, multi-lane roads under any type of condition, whether it’s traffic or weather conditions. It almost goes without saying that freeway driving is the most challenging of the skills, and potentially the most dangerous due to the speeds, congestion, and road hazards.
I didn’t create any dedicated long freeway drives, but the skill is embedded in just about every one of the long drives. Some have a lot of freeway driving in them, and others just a little. Given the importance of freeway driving, I would make sure you spend time on this skill outside of the long drives. The teen driver needs to be confident in their freeway driving and be prepared to handle as many different situations as possible.
One method you may want to use to focus on freeway driving is to take a road trip. I was fortunate enough with each of my kids to take a lengthy road trip while they had their learner’s permit. They got to log a lot of concentrated freeway driving hours over a short period of time. In some cases, we logged as many as 10-12 hours of freeway driving over a 3-4 day period. If you’re able to do it, I’d highly recommend it.
If you feel the driver needs more experience in any of the above areas, feel free to spend more time on that skill. You can revisit or repeat all or a part of one of the drives. Better yet, create your own drive to practice a specific skill. If you do, feel free to share the drive and your experience in the comments.
When learning how to drive, nothing beats behind the wheel experience. The more driving you can do with your teenager, the better. In my opinion, there is no such thing as too much behind the wheel time. The more time they can spend driving through different terrains, different weather conditions, and different traffic conditions; the more situations they can experience; the better prepared they will be for what lies ahead. Best of all, you’ll be more relaxed and more confident when you let them have the keys to the car for the evening.
I strongly encourage you to break up the long drives. Throughout the series, I’ve pointed out the places and times where I’ve stopped, but you’re welcome to change it up as you like. Taking a break is good for resting. It restores focus and concentration. It allows you to review the drive to that point, review any challenging moments, reinforce good decisions, and answer questions. More importantly, it’s great bonding time, and an opportunity to talk about things other than driving. I have great memories with each of the kids not only of our drives but also our stops along the way
In California, there is a guideline (or rule depending on how you look at it) that the teen driver needs 50 hours behind the wheel before getting their license. If you use these long drives, and augment it with a road trip, you will be well over halfway there, if not closer to 2/3 complete. I’m not suggesting you go for the minimum, but it will certainly make it easier to fill in the last 15-20 hours that you need to log to get the drive over the required 50.
Finally, I feel that teaching someone else to drive makes you a better driver. Most of us aren’t even aware of our actions when we drive. We do it automatically, as though we’re on autopilot. When you teach, you become aware of your driving habits. You reinforce and pass along your good habits. You become more aware of your bad ones. And while you may not correct them, you at least do your best not to pass them along.
Teaching a teen to drive is a commitment. It’s a serious time investment. I know, I’ve done it four times, and I would do it over again.
I get that we’re all busy. The easy route is to outsource the effort. In California, the state pushes us that way by mandating a minimum of six hours of training by a licensed driving school. I urge you to resist the temptation.
Teaching your child to drive is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you shouldn’t outsource, even if the government encourages it. I know it can be nerve wracking. I know it tries your patience. I know it can be tense. But the end result is worth it. The shared experiences and memories you create will last you a lifetime. While it may not seem like it in the moment, you will cherish them forever. I encourage you to set the time aside and make the investment in the teaching process. You won’t regret it if you approach it systematically with the right approach.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed the series and got a lot out of the drives. Feel free to ask any questions, provide any thoughts, or offer any suggestions in the comments.