Whenever a kid’s in your car, you have an extra responsibility to teach some good driving manners
Pop Quiz: At what age do your children learn how to drive?
a) 16, or whenever it’s legal
b) 14 (or less), because we live in the boonies
c) When they go to get their licence
The truth is, your child is learning to drive from the first time they are cognizant they are in a car and someone is driving. Year, year-and-a-half maybe? Kids are smart.
We spend a great deal of time and money prepping our offspring to get behind the wheel. Some teens can’t wait and some we have to urge to get it over with. Maybe you live in an area with terrific transit and it’s not a consideration, though I’ll never believe the ability to drive is not a skill worth having. Whatever the circumstances, parents, grandparents and anyone else who regularly drives with children needs to keep something in mind: You are teaching them every time you get behind the wheel.
Our roads can be chaotic, our commutes can be exasperating, and whether you’re driving across town or across the country, you will encounter a unique set of circumstances every time you set out. How you handle them will be absorbed in the eyes and ears of those in the back seat, and their own driving behaviour will reflect your actions.
By the time your 15-year-old is asking you if it was okay to run that amber light, it’s too late. You’ve probably been doing similar things for years. Bad habits don’t form overnight, and most of us don’t know or won’t admit that we have a long list of bad habits on full display when we drive. I’m not going to try to save you from yourself, because only some dedicated, voluntary time with an instructor will do that. All I’m asking is that you check some of your actions and resist handing off those often dangerous actions to the next generation.
Some of it is just behavioural; if you’re a frustrated driver who angers easily, your kids already know you will honk and swear at anyone and anything that gets in your way. If you don’t care about the fact this can run the gamut from being uncomfortable to terrifying for your passengers, maybe you’ll consider that you’re teaching your kid to be an emotional driver. Translate that aggression and rage into someone who has little experience behind the wheel, and you’re advocating some pretty deadly decisions.
Flipside, if you yourself are a knotted stressball when you drive, your passivity can be detrimental to anyone taking their cues from you. Don’t teach your kids that it is safe to wave others through stop signs when it is your turn to go; do not enter a highway on-ramp by coming to a halt because you’re too hesitant; do not drive in the passing lane white-knuckling the wheel because you’re scared of all the cars and trucks around you.
Modern technology is, of course, fabulous. You can turn your car into a mobile office no matter where you are, and take calls on the fly. I have a better idea. If your children are in the car with you, focus on them. Instead of patterning the distracted, dangerous action of yapping on the phone while you ignore what’s happening both inside and outside your car, use that time to reconnect with what matters most. Keep your attention on the road and converse with your passengers, who are experiencing the same things you are. Talking on your cellphone while you drive, or push a baby buggy, or walk your kids home from school is not spending time with those kids. Don’t kid yourself. You’re ripping them off.
Brush up on the rules of the road. Things have changed since you got your licence, from the way vehicles actually perform to the laws that govern our traffic. Make your someday-drivers part of the equation. Teach them how to change lanes safely, and how to judge distances. Perfect example? Coming back on a trip one time, a suspected drunk driver cut me off when my son was with me. He handled the call to authorities as we went over figuring out exactly where we were, which direction we were headed, which exit we’d just passed and how far it was until the next one. From staying calm in a dangerous moment to understanding highway markings, he learned what kind of information is needed to help police. He was 14.
When the time comes for the new driver in your household to head into a driving classroom, don’t be surprised when they start critiquing your moves. Maybe you’ve been taking a corner and heading directly into the far lane instead of the curb lane for so long you forgot it’s illegal; maybe you block an intersection because everyone else does it; maybe you don’t shoulder check as much as you should because your car has warning systems.
And maybe you’re passing up a great opportunity to make at least two people in that car better, safer drivers.