As a professional driver and automotive expert, you’d think Sydney parent Tim Robson would be better placed than most when it came to teaching his daughter to drive.
After all, having spent years piloting exotic and expensive metal around Australia’s racetracks at the kinds of speeds that would make an autobahn blush, preparing his 21-year-old daughter for her Provisional driving test on quiet, suburban roads should have been a breeze by comparison.
So imagine his surprise when it proved to be just the opposite.
“It’s proven equal parts terrifying and enlightening."
"There are few scarier things in the world than relinquishing control of a two-tonne SUV to someone you know can’t even put a toothbrush back in a cup,” Mr Robson says.
“Even as someone who teaches others on a race track, it was surprisingly hard to translate the tasks I can do without thinking into understandable instructions for a complete rookie.
Throw in the complication of the father/daughter dynamic, and it’s bloody hard work.
I am a little surprised at how hard it is to teach someone to drive. I’ve been thinking about how I’d teach her for ages, and it kind of backfired pretty quickly.”
Mr Robson’s story will sound all too familiar to any concerned parents across the country who are either teaching, or preparing to teach, their children to drive, and want to do it in the safest possible way.
Because the sobering statistics make for hard reading, and are the stuff of parental nightmares.
All major studies confirm people aged between 17 and 25 are horrifically overrepresented in road accidents, despite making up less than 20% of the driving population.
In fact, young people are three times more likely to be involved in a serious accident than any other age group.
Different state guidelines
But while there’s no uncertainty over the need to teach our children to drive safely, what’s less certain is exactly how to do it.
Almost every state in Australia has a different set of guidelines and regulations governing the learner driver process, ranging from the 120 hours (20 hours at night) supervised training required in NSW and Victoria to just 50 in Western Australia and Tasmania, and none whatsoever in the ACT, where learner drivers are instead asked to show competency in a range of driving skills.
And that’s before you consider the different approaches each and every parent takes to the learn-to-drive process, with tips and techniques changing not just between households, but even between each parent.
Passing on bad habits
So how do you best prepare your child for this inescapable rite-of-passage?
The answer, according to the country’s driver trainers, is to learn along with your children, ensuring you’re not just across the most current road rules, but that you’re not passing on any of you own bad habits, including the ones you might not even be aware you’ve got.
“One of the most common things we see is mum teaching a child to do something in a particular way, then dad teaching them to do it another way,” says NSW Driver Trainers Association President, Anthony Cope.
“A lot of parents don’t realise they’ve developed bad habits, and they don’t realise that they’re passing them along. That makes the learning process so much more difficult.”
And that means the very first driving lesson is one you should take yourself, often along with your child, to ensure you are passing on the best possible advice throughout the rest of the learning process.
“From our perspective, what we like to do is form a three-way partnership between the parents, the learner and the instructor,” says Mr Cope.
“The parents will do the bulk of the supervising of the learner driver, and we understand that we won’t be as involved with most of the supervised hours, but if we can form a partnership where the parents use us, not just as resource for the learner, but as resource for themselves as well, then that is the most effective method.
We will often take a parent along for a lesson, and a lot of instructors encourage that, so the parents can get as much information out of it as the learner.
That way they see the approach we’re taking, and then they can employ those same techniques when they’re supervising.”
Paying for lessons
It’s advice Mr Robson says he wishes he’d taken earlier in the learn-to-drive process, which would have saved him many nervous hours in the passenger seat.
“I think in hindsight, professional instruction right off the bat is probably the way to go."
"It provides them with a base or knowledge and gets around the parent/child dynamic, too,” he says.
“Once she’s mastered the basics and got a few hours up to ease the jitters, I’d be happy to coach her through the balance of her training.”
Top tips from a qualified driving instructor
- All supervisors should discuss and agree on their methods before the first lesson to ensure they’ll all be offering the same advice. It’s common that mum might tell them to do something one way, while dad might tell them to do it another way, and that makes the learning process more confusing than it needs to be.
- Study the road rules with your child when they’re preparing for their Learner test to ensure you’re as up to date as you can be on any potential rule changes.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Driving might be second nature for you, but remember that this is the first time they’re doing this, and that they will make mistakes.
- Break every learning element into small and manageable tasks. So reverse parking, for example, isn’t one constant action, it’s a series of four manageable elements.
- Take advantage of your state’s learn-to-drive resources. In NSW, for example, a government program called Keys2Drive ensures all learner drivers are eligible for a free driving lesson, while enrolling in a safe driver course can shave up to 50 hours off your child’s log book requirements.
Finally no matter who is driving your car - make sure you have the right car insurance.
This article was originally published by Fairfax Media on the January 27th 2017 and represents the views of the author only and not of NRMA Insurance.