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Teen driving practice: It’s not just for summer anymore!

June 14, 2018

A teen sitting in a driver's seat

Now that school is out and your family’s schedule is (hopefully) a little less crazy, it’s a great time to take the car out with your teen for some driving practice. After all, the weather is warm, there’s a lot more daylight, and the roads are dry: perfect conditions under which to learn to drive, right?

Right…but there’s more to it than that. Your teen needs practice driving on dry pavement in broad daylight, it’s true. But they also need practice driving on icy pavement in the dark, or on dirt roads at dusk. Which means summer is a great time for driving practice, but it needs to continue all year round.

Think of it as not teaching to the test. In other words, driving practice isn’t about preparing your teen to get their license. If it were, you’d practice a few parallel parking maneuvers and call it good. Driving practice is about preparing your teen to instinctively make safe driving decisions after they get their license—when you’re not in the car.

As you know, teen brains aren’t fully developed yet. That makes them more likely to take risks (like speeding or looking at their phone) and give in to negative peer pressure (“We can totally fit six people in your car! Turn the music up!”), and it shows up in the numbers: Teen drivers are almost twice as likely as adult drivers to be involved in traffic crashes, and crashes are a leading killer of Minnesota teens.

What’s the solution? Lots and lots of hours of “windshield time” to train their brains to resist these temptations and risks while they’re operating a vehicle. So much time behind the wheel that safe driving behaviors become second nature. We don’t teach our kids reading once a week for three months and just expect them to know how to read for the rest of their lives. We practice with them, over and over, all year round. We patiently put in the hours. We observe what they’re missing and we work on what they’re having trouble with. The same needs to go for driving skills.

So take time to learn what your teen needs to know how to do (here’s a driving skills checklist, contract and practice log that will make that easier), then schedule lots of windshield time together to help them develop those skills. Keep doing it through all four seasons, and your teen will be much better prepared to be a safe driver.