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Five Driver’s-Ed Tips to Teach Your Teen in the Driveway

Bill Wade, national program director of Tire Rack Street Survival, has some good tips for parents training their teens at home.

Eleonor SeguraWriterGetty ImagesPhotographer

With driver education courses on hold, parents of teenagers who are itching to learn skills behind the wheel have probably found themselves reaching into their back pockets for plans B, C, D, and E. Most everyone knows it's wise to practice in empty parking lots, and there is certainly no shortage of those right now. Additionally, Bill Wade, national program director of Tire Rack Street Survival, has some helpful advice and new-driver tips for parents teaching their teens at home—solid new-driver tips you can use without even having to leave your driveway.

Get Comfortable Behind the Wheel

Before your eager teen turns the ignition, they must be relaxed and familiar with the controls on the dashboard, mirrors, and pedals—and know how they all work together without having to change seating position.

  • Start by adjusting the seat to a comfortable angle.
  • Next, raise your arms without moving your shoulders away from the seatback, and drop your arms on top of the steering wheel.
  • Adjust the seat forward or backward so the steering wheel is at the break of your wrists while your arms are straight and, again, you don't need to move your shoulders off of the seatback to achieve this. If you can't do this, you are too far away from the wheel. This new-driver tip provides the appropriate bend in the arms.
  • With the car running and in Park, push the ball of your foot on the brake pedal, and push it down as far as possible.
  • Adjust the position of your seat in relation to the pedals so you can depress the brake fully without "locking" your knee. In other words, there should always be a slight bend in the knee; this allows a little more travel for when the car goes into ABS mode under panic braking and allows the foot to be in the most stable position.
  • A driver should never have to operate the brake pedal with just the tip of their shoe. The foot should be firmly planted on the pedal and not slip off.
  • Adjust the seat to a height that provides the best field of vision; you should not have to adjust the seating position once the car is in motion.

Proper Hand Positioning

  • The correct hand position is at 9 and 3 o'clock; this provides maximum ability to turn the wheel without having interference in the arms, or having to cross your arms too often.
  • Always have two hands on the wheel. To make the car turn, you should pull down on the steering wheel and not push up. The reason why you want this is anatomical: You have small muscle groups in your forearm, and large muscle groups in your upper arms and your shoulders. You have much more control over the smaller muscle groups than the larger ones.

By pushing up on the steering wheel, you use the smaller muscles rather than pushing up using the big ones, especially in a panic situation. If you pull down the steering wheel, you have a better chance of achieving the correct steering input. If you push up, you might have too much input and get the car out of shape or into a spin.

Seat Belt Safety

Your teen driver needs to wear their seat belt every time they get in the car and wear it properly-no exceptions. The lap-belt portion needs to be low on the hips and not riding high on the stomach, where it can damage internal organs in a crash. The shoulder belt, meanwhile, cannot be left loose. If the belts are loose or put outside of bulky clothing, it will take additional time for them to tighten fully in a crash.

Proper Mirror Positioning

This is one of the most important new-driver tips: Putting the mirrors in the correct position is critical to eliminate blind spots. Most people believe—falsely—their car has a blind spot, but in reality, they simply have misaligned mirrors. If you can see the side of the car in the sideview mirrors when you are in the driving position, the mirrors are aligned improperly.

  • To properly position the mirrors, set the seat in its proper position and then lean your head to the left so you hit the window glass with your temple.
  • Keep your head there and adjust the mirror so you can see just a sliver of the side of the car.
  • Once that is done, sit upright. Lean parallel to the dashboard (to the right) so your forehead is positioned in the center of the car and approximately equal to the rearview mirror.
  • Adjust the passenger-side mirror so you can see a sliver of the side of the car on the right side. This will "flatten" the angle of the mirrors, making them slightly more perpendicular to the sides of the car. In doing so, it increases the cone of reflection behind the car. The rearview mirror should always be in a centered position to have equal visibility across the rear window.

Your teen—and you—should never look over their shoulder while driving. Our hands follow our eyes, and if you look over your shoulder to change lanes, you might subconsciously move the wheel to that side. With proper mirror position, there is no reason to look over your shoulder because there is no blind spot. To reaffirm it is safe to make a lane change, teach your teen driver to lean forward while looking in the mirror. This action changes the angle of reflection and will reassure you.

Always in Park Procedure

  • Teach your teen to make all adjustments necessary that may be a distraction on the road before putting the car into motion.
  • Seat positioning and mirror alignments should be corrected while the car is in park.
  • Teach your teen to secure their phone away-placing it on "Do Not Disturb" or turning it off to ensure they have no temptation to check a text or answer a call while driving.
  • Music adjustments such as volume, station, or playlist should also be made before putting the car in motion.

New-Driver Tips to Put it All in Perspective

When your car travels at a speed of 60 mph, it covers the length of a high-school basketball court every second. At just 55 mph, it covers the length of a football field every 5 seconds. Also remember: our hands follow our eyes. Looking at the dash to change the radio station means you are driving blind for the duration it takes to change the channel—more than enough time to cause serious damage and inflict serious injury.