Should Parents be Teaching Their Kids How to Drive?

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as an NMA Weekly E-Newsletter #497 emailed to members in July 2018. If you would like to receive the newsletter, join today the thousands of other active motorists who have made that choice!

Our son will soon turn 16, and he has no interest in learning how to drive yet. I’m relieved. I don’t want to teach him how to drive, especially since I drive a stick shift. It doesn’t help that I’m not really the best role model of driving. I’m a safe driver and never text and drive, for example, but I admit I have been known to become pretty irate with a tailgater or someone who turns in front of me and makes me brake hard. I use my horn a lot.

Many media outlets have written about there being no teen car culture anymore. Most teens, my son included, prefer building friendships online rather than face-to-face. It seems to me that this generation of teens has no desire to hurry up and become adults. I see that in my own son. And maybe that’s okay.

When I was his age, I didn’t feel I had a choice. My mother wanted me to learn how to drive so I could become the after-school chauffeur for my younger siblings.

At that time, I didn’t have to worry about a graduated driver’s license program. In fact, I didn’t even take driver’s ed because I wanted to save that half of a high school credit. I didn’t pass my driver’s test the first time because I couldn’t parallel park. I lived out in the country, and that was something we never needed to do. You could park in a space on Main Street in my hometown, and you just needed to know how to back up.

Very few high schools teach driver’s ed anymore. The courses are gone due to budget cuts. Most were taught by a teacher who had extra hours and did not necessarily have any special training. Now, beginning drivers can take online courses, attend a driving school, or be taught by their parents or guardians.

Credit: State Farm

Teens between the ages of 16 and 18 must now go through their state’s graduated driver’s licensing program, usually completed in three stages: permit stage, probationary stage, and fully licensed. In the permit stage, they are permitted to drive with adult supervision (over 25 and usually with a parent or guardian). In many states, they must log anywhere between 30 to 50 hours of practice.

I started driving in the pasture when I was 14, and then my mom supervised my road driving maybe a few times from there. But she would never have had the time or inclination to spend 50 hours of logged practice with her other children and me.

Should parents really be the ones to teach their kids how to drive?

I lived in Germany for many years, and if you wanted to learn how to drive (beginning at 18), you went through a six-month driving school course and learned from trained professionals who worked with you in all aspects of driving practice. No pathos, no drama, no tension…just driving.

In my experience, Germans are undoubtedly the best drivers in the world. They know how to navigate a roundabout, how to execute a zipper merge properly, and can even drive their finely tuned engines over 120 KM on the Autobahn. And most importantly, German drivers universally practice lane courtesy – keeping right except to pass or exit. This is all due to learning how to drive the right way in a professional driver’s education course.

Credit: State Farm

Now, some states mandate that parents must attend a driver’s education class before they can teach their kids. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Northern Virginia require that parents or guardians take a two-hour class about the rules and restrictions their teen drivers will face before they can get a license. In Texas, and probably several other states, a parent has to declare to the state that you will be the one teaching your kid how to drive.

Why do I feel like a huge rock is on top of me? All these regulations and mandate suck the fun right out of learning how to drive for everyone involved.

Driving, of course, is a learned skill and an important one. It is one of those basic skills every child should learn, such as typing. But with all the hoops one has to jump through now, is it any wonder many teens have little interest in learning how to drive?

I will not teach my son how to drive. I’ll leave that to the professionals, when he’s ready, of course.

Update: My son just turned 18 and has finally expressed interest in learning to drive. I was tempted recently to take him to a large empty parking lot to let him have a go with my VW Beetle, but then I thought better of it since it is a stick shift. We will be looking for a local driving school as soon as the COVID-19 crisis ends.

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4 Responses to “Should Parents be Teaching Their Kids How to Drive?”

  1. David Holzman says:

    When I was 6, I asked my mother how many days it would be until I’d be able to get my license.

    Not too long after that, one day I was going somewhere with my father, and I said, “I wonder what it would be like to drive.” He said, you want to try it?

    He had me slide over next to him, and let me steer. I was thrilled!

    A year later, he started letting me use the gas and steer at the same time, always in second gear. At 9, he took me to a fairly deserted road, put me in the driver’s seat, and with some bucking, I learned to use the clutch and shift gears.

    By the time I was 14, I was probably pretty competent, but I dared not take the car out when I was home alone–which I could have done, because I knew where there were keys, and he’d warned me that if I ever got into crash without a license, we could be sued for everything we had.

    But I agree with the author that driving in the US would be better if we taught new drivers in the manner of the Germans.

    When I finally got my learner’s permit, I got to drive all the way home to our summer house–35 miles of bliss in the Peugeot 404 wagon, which had 4 on the tree.

  2. Andres says:

    It’s easy to know if one is a good driver (above average). Have you caused any wrecks at-fault in the last 5-10 years (with over 10,000 miles a year)? If not, no need to go any further. You will be a good role model.

    If you’ve had “not at fault” wrecks, that one is tougher. Certainly, you shouldn’t be having more than “average” at-fault wrecks either. Some are just bad luck, but having bad luck often indicates problems in methods of operation while driving.

    If you know your below average (with a spotty collision causing record), you should most definitely not teach anyone how to drive.

    • I have not had a wreck since 1988. I could teach but I think it would be better for our parent-child relationship that I do not.

      • Greg Nelson says:

        I agree Shelia- it’s better for me not to teach my kids too. I hear good things about Swerve driving school and am happy to send them along. I’m a good driver, but I need to be a good dad too.