1. Don't forget the Bookwork! This is an exciting time for you and your teen. She's likely taken driving classes in school and she's passed her Pennsylvania permit test. It's time to drive! Before you head out on the road, slow down and take a moment to review the rules of the road and the owner's manual for the car she'll be driving. It'll be good for you and her to freshen up on the rules. The Pennsylvania Driver's Manual is free and just a click away.
2. Start in a Parking Lot. Or some place where you can be free of traffic and lights. It's important for your teen to get the feel of controlling the car before she's faced with other cars and traffic signals. An empty parking lot is just the thing. Make the first time a daylight experience in good weather.
3. Learn the Controls. Before the car starts to move, take the time to make sure your new driver is thoroughly comfortable with the controls. Have her turn the car on and off a few times. Show her how the wipers and headlights work and have her turn them on and off. Put the car in gear and back in park.
4. Control the Car. Just learning how the accelerator and brake feel and the car reacts is important. Let your teen make the mistakes of jerking to a start and stop in a controlled setting and practice until he has the feel of the car. Let your teen practice until he is confident and smooth in basic car control during turns and backing. Make certain your teen is aware of the car's placement in relation to other objects. Parking between lines and backing up to an obstacle (preferably one that won't damage your car, like a hedge) familiarizes your new driver with where the sides and rear of the vehicle are in space.
5. Choose Light Traffic for the First Road Experience. That first time on the road can be nerve wracking, not to mention dangerous. Choose a location where the traffic patterns are simple and there aren't many other drivers on the road. Make this first road experience about staying centered in the lane and maintaining safe distances between vehicles.
6. Increase the Challenge. The first experiences should be easy and straightforward but your teen will have to deal with greater complexity sooner or later. Look for ways to gradually introduce your teen to more challenging driving circumstances. For example, take your teen on the freeway. Then try night driving. Then move to inclement weather. Finally, try dense urban traffic patterns. Don't be afraid to go back and review basics like keeping the car centered if you observe regression in your new driver's skills.
7. Remain Calm. Learning to control a large and dangerous piece of machinery can be tense for all concerned but if you are displaying your anxiety you will only make matters worse than they need be. Prepare yourself for the mistakes that both you and your teen will make so that you stay cool. In the long run, your even approach will help you communicate more effectively and your teen will learn more rapidly.
8. Give Good Directions. Remember to give directions well in advance of where you expect things to occur and always begin with the "where" before you get to the "what." So, "At the next traffic light, turn right" is better than "Turn right at the next traffic light." This approach avoids the sudden right turn and gives your teen time to process the full message. Also, watch out for verbal tics that will mislead your new driver. "Go ahead and stop" is confusing. Do you want your driver to "stop" or "go ahead?"
9. Have Fun. Remember, there are going to be mistakes and your response to them is critical. Your driver is going to have some jerky starts and stops. You're going to miscommunicate your intentions. Your teen is going to misunderstand you. These things are certain. What you can control is how you react to them. The experience should be one that both facilitates learning and creates a happy memory. Good luck!
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