Helping young people learn to drive safely

Posted on December 2nd, 2013 by GEM Motoring Assist

Most young people relish the opportunity of reaching driving age, taking lessons and enjoying the freedom that can go with a full driving licence. With a bit of help from more experienced drivers, especially Mum and Dad, they can reduce the risks they face on the road s novice drivers.


It’s a fact that young drivers aged 17 to 24 are involved in a disproportionately high number of road traffic collisions. But there are steps parents can take to help reduce the risks faced – and posed – by their children when they reach driving age. What’s more, the steps start a lot earlier than you may realise.

Young drivers and risks

It’s easy to criticise ‘young drivers’ as thrill-seeking, reckless and risk-taking. But let’s not be too quick to condemn. After all, we were 17 once, and many of us will probably remember what it felt like to be treated as an accident waiting to happen. It didn’t do much to instil confidence or pride in our driving, did it! That’s why it’s so important to look at forging and sustaining a ‘partnership’ approach with your son or daughter to life on the road. From your point of view, this could include:

  • Encouraging them to ask questions before they become learners
  • Explaining why some actions are riskier than others
  • Getting them to apply their science and maths skills to practical driving matters such as stopping distances and fuel economy.
  • Discussing all the issues that go with owning and running a car. As well as putting fuel in it, there’s tax to pay, insurance, servicing and upkeep, as well as breakdown cover to buy. No wonder there are many young people who simply don’t learn until they’re older, simply because of the prohibitive costs involved with running a car.

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Choosing an instructor

Only Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs), and licensed instructors under training, can give instruction for payment.  It is illegal for anyone else to charge for driving lessons.  Two types of badge are issued by the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) for display in tuition vehicles. A green, octagonal badge shows the instructor is fully qualified and approved. A pink, triangular badge shows the instructor is licensed under training and is not yet fully qualified.

The Driving Standards Agency monitors the quality of tuition provided by instructors, and grades them  accordingly. Grade 4 is considered the minimum standard for competence. Grade 6 is the highest standard.

Our advice is that personal recommendation is the best advertising for a driving instructor. Ask around to find out how other youngsters have fared with their instructors.

If you can’t find any recommendations, then make sure you ask sensible questions before committing to a particular school or instructor.

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Questions to ask

  • Is the instructor a fully-qualified Approved Driver Instructor (ADI)? Check the badge in the front windscreen of the tuition vehicle.
  • If you’re choosing a large driving school, will you have the same instructor for each lesson?
  • Can you have a trial lesson for free or at a reduced rate?
  • What is the instructor’s ‘first time’ pass rate? for learners sitting the practical test for the first time?
  • Which grade has the DSA given the instructor?  Ask when the instructor was last assessed.
  • What car is used for lessons? How old is it? Does it have dual controls?
  • Will the instructor be giving you undivided attention, or will you be expected to either pick up the next pupil or drop off the previous one during the time allocated to your lesson?
  • Can you understand your instructor clearly. This is really important, and may be an issue to consider if either you or your instructor do not have English as your first language.

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Give your own driving the once-ove

Setting the scene for a safe driving career starts long before a young person reaches driving age. After all, journeys taken with you, the parent, as driver, are sure to have a lot of influence on the sort of attitudes he or she adopts behind the wheel. If your driving is aggressive, risky or a bit quick, then your son or daughter may well believe that this is OK. If you park on double yellow lines, or jump the odd amber traffic light, or follow too closely the vehicle in front, then the safety reasons for NOT doing any or all of these things may well be lost.

That’s why it makes sense for you to organise a little refresher training for yourself. Many driving instructors operate parent driving assessments or ‘masterclasses’, and some don’t even charge for this. During the hour-long session, you will be given an assessment of your driving skills and advice about how to conduct practice sessions productively with your young learner. Experts believe that it really helps to encourage a three-way partnership between the instructor, the learner and the parent (or other ‘practice partner’) and make sure information exchange is consistent.

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Supervising your son or daughter

When a young person starts the process of learning, it’s very important that the lessons they take with a qualified instructor are supplemented by practice sessions. And that’s where we, as experienced parents, come in.

One of the key problems, when we sit down in the passenger seat alongside our learner, is to assume they will know how to drive, they will see everything we see on the road, and will understand how to deal with any hazard.

The simple fact is that they don’t know. That’s why they’re learning! And that’s why they need help and guidance, rather than frustration and irritation! Learning to drive combines a number of skills, most notably – in the early stages – the fundamentals of controlling the car. You, with your experience, can assist in developing their observation, anticipation and hazard perception. However, even though we, as experienced drivers, take many things for granted, it rarely happens automatically for a young learner.

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Before you start

Here are some basic points to consider before you commit yourself to the supervisor’s seat:

  • Are you the right person?
  • Are you correctly insured? Check with your insurance company.
  • Will you cope? Supervising a new driver is never easy!
  • The most useful thing you can do is to arrange a discussion with your young driver and the driving instructor you have chosen. OK, so it’s the  youngster who faces the task of learning and passing the test, but if you all three form a partnership from the outset, then the process will be smoother and – hopefully – more likely to be successful at the first go!

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Top tips for supervisors:

  • Have a chat before the first session, so both you and your young driver understand where the difficulties are likely to be encountered.
  • Before you go out for the first time, study the Highway Code.
  • Have a plan. Make sure that the practice sessions back up the new manoeuvres or techniques presented in your young driver’s most recent lesson.
  • Expect the unexpected. Do be ready for mistakes to be made. Anticipate where they might happen and try to deal with them in a calm manner.
  • Remember, rules and techniques have changed since you were a learner, so make sure you are backing up what the instructor says, rather than imposing your own ideas!
  • Assume nothing.
  • Remember that you are likely to spot potential problems earlier, simply because of your experience. Encourage your young driver to think ahead and anticipate.
  • But don’t overload his or her brain if it’s already working flat out – as it should be, especially in the early stages of learning when everything is so new.
  • Stay calm at all times. It’s a well known psychological fact that we can’t think and react at the same time. The things you say and do as a supervisor need to be based on thinking, not reacting!
  • Do build in time after each session for proper feedback. Ask for feedback from your young driver, too, so that you will both learn from the experience.

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Pre-driver schemes

Many Councils, road safety orgasnisations and fire and rescue services operate pre-driver training schemes, which target young people before they take their driving test. These schemes are designed to improve the attitude and behaviour of future drivers. They aim to maximise the benefits of  extra expert intervention before a young person picks up potentially risky driving habits and behaviours.
Contact your local council road safety unit to see if such a scheme operates in your local area.

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Q: My Dad managed to get me through the driving test without paying an instructor. It certainly did me no harm. What’s to stop me doing the same for my son, who is now of learning age?
A: There is nothing to stop you. However, things are different on the road – and in the field of learning – from when you took your test. A good driving instructor is skilled at teaching young people how to be the best possible drivers as well as how to make sure they stay safe on the road. Research from the Driving Standards Agency shows that the typical successful test candidate has a combination of – on average – 45 hours’ instruction and 22 hours’ additional supervision.

Q: Can my daughter start her practical lessons before passing the theory test?
A: Yes she can. In fact, she definitely SHOULD start the practical learning, as the experience she gains will help her understand the questions and answers contained in the theory test. Likewise what she studies for the theory test will also be very helpful in her practical lessons.

Q: Why is insurance so expensive for young drivers?
A:  It comes down to the statistical risk, and unfortunately younger drivers are much more likely to be involved in an accident.  One in five new drivers has an accident in their first year on the road. Also, 17 to 21 year-olds represent only seven per cent of all driving licence holders, but they make up 13 per cent of drivers involved in injury accidents. They typically have more accidents in the evenings and early mornings than older drivers and a higher proportion of these are single-vehicle accidents. Speed, alcohol, fatigue and peer pressure from friends also contributes to accidents involving young drivers. All of these factors, plus lack of experience, combine to mean that insurance for driving is never going to be cheap.

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