Kids n’ Cars : Learning to Drive

Kids n’ Cars : Learning to Drive

Does the thought of your son or daughter behind the wheel conjure up images of knuckles white from gripping the ‘Oh crap’ handle and thoughts of how to add a brake to the passenger side?  Fear not!  Most cars don’t have ‘Oh crap’ handles these days, anyway.

Driving is a huge rite of passage for your kids… just as much as it was for you.  It’s never too early to begin planning for that day they drive.  While the cost of a teen driving is ridiculously expensive, I remember the one kid who didn’t get their license… and man, I don’t want my daughter being that kid!

We’ll talk about dollars and driving a little later.  For now, let’s get them behind the wheel… without a heart attack… maybe even a little fun.  Uh-huh.

Welcome to Stu’s total immersion “Teach your kid to drive” training manual.

“OK, adjust the clutch and the gas until the car starts moving.  Now, go 3,000 miles that way.”

The prep work

I’m going to lead off your instructor training with the least popular parenting advice I give:

You don’t do your child(ren) any good by teaching them to drive an automatic transmission. 

Settle in to the idea of starting your child off driving a manual transmission.  The two biggest reasons:

  1. If you can drive a manual transmission, you can drive an automatic.  It’s not the case in reverse.
  2. The goal is to teach our new drivers to control a vehicle, not just hurl it in the direction of choice.  Driving a vehicle takes coordination and attention.  Most people view the clutch as another thing to pay attention to.  However, I argue that it’s the very first step to controlling the car.  Putting a car in Drive and mashing the gas pedal is going to put you in a tree.  Putting a car in 1st and mashing the pedal is going to get you nowhere.  Drop the clutch and you flood the engine.  Ooops!  Lesson over for today, Honey.

Next, teach them to check the oil on the car.  If you don’t know how to, it’s terribly simple.  Learn.  Teach them. 

Finally, show them where the spare tire is and either talk about changing it, show them in the manual where the instruction are, or indicate the AAA sticker on the car’s window emphasizing the bold red phone number.

I encourage the last two steps because it makes your child feel like they’re “working on” the car… and it helps them be more comfortable behind the wheel.

Now, for you.  Trust your child.  If you honestly don’t trust them to drive, are they really ready to learn?  Take teaching slow and you’ll be fine!

Lesson 1

Remember, they’re more scared of driving, than driving is of them.

Find an empty parking lot.  Park on a level surface.  Switch seats and start asking you child about controls:

  • Radio Power Button (turn it off)
  • Turn signals
  • Head lights
  • Ejector seat
  • Wipers
  • Hazards

If you heeded my earlier advice, begin moving the car like this:

Let off the brake.  Slowly let up on the clutch until the vehicle starts moving.  As soon as it does, put the clutch to the floor and apply the break immediately. (Oh, yeah… the car’s gonna jerk the first time.  Bring some ginger or antacids) . Rinse and repeat until the car moves and stops fluidly.

Now that the car can move, throw that puppy in reverse.  Bonus points for having a weird Audi or Suburu where the reverse is in a wonky spot.  Begin teaching your child to drive in reverse.  This, again, lends to the idea of control.  They are much more aware of how turning the wheel affects the car’s movement when going backwards.  Have them back into a parking space as if the lot were full.

Satisfied that they’re a backing up monster?  Time to head home.  You drive.

Repeat Lesson 1 until they seem comfortable with where everything is, the car is moving in and out of the parking spots smoothly, and you’re not hyperventilating when you see your child within 10 feet of the car keys.  If R did well, I’d praise her and let her drive half way home, to a convenience store and pick up a drink or something.

Lesson 2:

Road trip!  Heck yeah!  Nothing is more bonding than a few thousand miles with just you and your child.  Heck no, you didn’t miss a step in there.

I fully believe in this:

After my daughter had her permit for a few months.  Three, I think.  We had been doing the parking lot, sometimes road, thing once or twice each week.  She did pretty well.  I had a 7 out of 10 feeling about her driving with an adult in the car.

A friend needed an antique taken to San Diego.  I live in the Northeast US and I was going to Portland anyway.  California and Oregon are next to each other.  Of course, my Public-educated brain didn’t realize, San Diego is at the bottom of the state… and Oregon borders at the top, 3 days later.  Meh! So, rather than flying, we packed a backpack and sleeping bag each, a tent, some misc sundries, and said antique into my 6-spd coupe.  At about 1:00 in the afternoon (a good four hours after planned), we took off across the country… switching diving every few hours. 

Three thousand miles later, R had experience driving in construction, over 8 lane mega highways, during rush hour, even through part of a hurricane.  More importantly, she had driven 80 mph (legally) overnight through Texas (whew!  this was a boring state).  She drove Pacific Coast Highway.  She drove Lombard St, the most crooked road in the US.  We visited some of the nation’s treasured landmarks, greatest cities, and alluring sideshow attractions.  Yeah… just my daughter and I.

Most people live in the US their whole lives and don’t do half of those things.  “I learned to drive going across the country.” sure makes a better story for her than “Dad took me out on Sundays for an hour or two after the game.”


Just to recap.  You know all that road time that’s required to get their license? Pshhh… check!  And you don’t have to log any of it to keep track.  (Yeah, it could be argued that I took the road trip simply because I’m lazy.)

All that time with your teen is amazing.  You’ll never replace it.

You can’t predict what will happen as far as weather, construction, and just happenstance.  By the end, you’ll be completely comfortable with them behind the wheel… and they will be a confident driver.

The best things you can give your child are wisdom and experiences.  You’re taught them to drive and you’ve given them an incredible story to tell.  I hope you consider doing this… and when you’re done, let me know how it went!

Join me next time and you’ll find out why You’re crazy if you don’t buy your kid a car.





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