Buyers' Guide: Learning to enjoy driving
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The idea of helping your children with their driving can strike fear and anxiety for many parents. Helping your child practise driving can be fun, but also extremely challenging.
The best practice approach for anyone learning to drive is to, in the first instance, take professional driving lessons from an NZTA approved driving instructor. This will ensure that, as a parent, you’re not passing on bad habits or outdated techniques to your child.
Learning to drive takes a lot of practice, however, and being someone’s driving mentor requires considerable patience, empathy and knowledge of what is needed to prepare them not only to pass their test but for them to become a safe and responsible driver.
It is almost always better to practise in the car that they will be taking their test in — manual or automatic.
Before you start driving, sit in the stationary car and check your learner understands and has mastered the controls, mirrors and switches, has a comfortable driving position with the seat at the right height, the steering wheel adjusted to be comfortable and being able to reach and operate the pedals correctly.
Find a place where there is no traffic, such as an unused car parking area, and practise moving off, stopping and turning. When you think you are both ready, move onto a planned and familiar route with little or no traffic.
As your learner driver improves his or her ability to control the vehicle in easy road conditions, start to introduce more challenging, complex driving conditions to improve their observation, reactions and thinking skills.
As a supervisor you should also be driving the car, in your mind. Look well ahead and use your experience to coach your learner driver on potential hazards and the correct action to take.
At the end of each practice session, spend time reviewing what went well, what didn’t go so well and what to include in the next practice session as a result. Try to keep your feedback session relaxed, and consider taking notes to give to your child’s professional instructor at their next lesson.
How much practice?
It is recommended that a minimum of eight hours professional tuition is supplemented with as much practice with a mentor as possible. As a guide, 100 hours of practice is recommended before taking the full driver licence test.
Research has shown that the more practice learner drivers get, the safer they will be after passing the test.
To make sure they are ready, it’s a good idea for them to have some refresher driving lessons with a professional instructor or take a simulated restricted practical test with an instructor that will help them prepare for the real thing.
The AA Defensive Driving Course is a great way for restricted driver licence holders to up their skill levels, improve safety and be prepared for their full licence test.
Five top tips for a positive mentoring experience
1. When coaching them, don’t talk down to them or address them like a child. Take a learner-centric approach by asking “What can you see here?” or “What risks can you see at the intersection ahead?”
2. Praise specific progress and improvement, while offering non-judgmental, optimistic encouraging words.
3. If your son or daughter makes a mistake, keep an even tone to your voice with your comments making them aware of the mistake, rather than making them feel guilty.
4. Focus on action required rather than the desired result. If your child panics when approaching a traffic light, screaming to slow down is unlikely to help.
5. Say things in a positive way: “Keep towards the centre of the road and look well ahead” rather than “don’t go near the parked cars”.