In the United Kingdom we allow our youngsters to start hitting the road at the age of 17 but across the world drivers can begin from as young as 14 in Canada if they have supervision. The importance of making sure your child is ready to take on the very big responsibility of driving is vital and there’s no reason why some of the lessons they need to learn can’t be passed on at a much earlier age. When I was young in Ireland, all of my cousins were driving as soon as their age was in double figures - yes it was sometimes just a tractor or other farm vehicle, but if it was country roads where they were unlikely to pass anyone other than a neighbour they were often allowed to practice in a car. Back then people weren't as precious about cars and we didn't even have M.O.T.s yet (they now years later have NCTs).
Before you start: Make sure that you meet the legal minimum licence requirements yourself. A supervising driver must be over 21 years of age and have held a full Great Britain (GB), Northern Ireland or European Community/European Economic Area (EC/EEA) driving licence (for the type of vehicle you are using) for a minimum of three years.
There are no limits, of course, to teaching theory or basic road safety and these act as the building blocks for a child’s learning. I learned the whole Highway Code when I was a little girl, (when my Mum was learning and when I was in the Panda competition) but I think I have most of it forgotten now.
Benefits of learning early: By teaching your child to drive at an early age they gain independence - one of the greatest gifts you can give them. It is an essential part of growing up and becoming an adult. You allow your child the opportunity to have the freedom that driving brings but always remember that you are still there to offer guidance and support. Driving will also develop their decision making skills and help them to form their own identity with the added freedom that it allows. There are also practical benefits for them in learning early – after all when they’re growing up they are used to preparing for exams. You can help them prepare for their theory test by going through some free mock tests at TopTests.co.uk and they’re bound to react well while still in ‘study mode’. Once they are ready they can Book a Theory Test here.
Behavioural skills: One of the biggest contributions to your teen's safety and effectiveness behind the wheel will be how you model behaviour and attitude to driving while they are growing up. Before embarking on teaching your child you should reflect on your own driving habits and behaviour when you drive. You need to show your knowledge and encourage your child to be patient and courteous when dealing with other road users. This could have an impact on whether your child will be co-operative or competitive in traffic, whether they will take risks or practice restraint when dealing with unfamiliar scenarios. There’s nothing wrong with explaining what you are doing when changing gears, for example, either. Demonstrating that the road comes first and that it is therefore hazardous to be distracted by a phone or anything else, while driving, is also a valuable priority to imbed in them by role modelling. Accidents are worse at speed, so a healthy respect for speed limits is a good thing to make them aware of, along with the knowledge that there are speed cameras, spot checks and consequences for taking chances.
Young driver lessons: The AA and Admiral are among those now offering young driver lessons for children aged between 11-17. According to research carried out by the RAC Foundation, young people who learn to drive at 17 are almost 50 per cent more likely to be involved in a crash than those who learn at 25. Admiral says about its Young Drivers Academy: “It was set up to arm young people with more knowledge and experience than the average 17-year-old driver would have before they take to public roads.” Children get to learn skills in a real car but on simulated roads in a safe environment with an instructor. It’s the perfect example of why early learning is important – by addressing some issues early you can reduce the traditional risks faced by teen drivers.
Awareness: You can encourage children to become more aware of the road and other road users before they even get behind the wheel. The road safety charity Brake.org runs regular road safety weeks both in the UK and worldwide and works with many schools and colleges to encourage young people how to take steps to become safer. Things like the stopping distance of cars travelling at different speeds is looked at, as well as distractions for drivers and pedestrians that can pose a danger. Learning this information early could help your child to become a better driver when they do get out on the roads. Again, this is all about recognising the fact that driving lessons don’t begin by getting behind the wheel, in fact that’s the end of the process really. By that stage a healthy respect for motoring needs to already be instilled in the new driver.
This post is in association with TopTests.