Rules of the road

Teach your teen to drive without wrecking your relationship

Driving instructor Phil Person teaches a teen to drive.

Driving instructor Phil Person teaches a teen to drive.

Photo By amy beck

For more information, contact All American Driving School, 825-1957,; or Driver’s Edge, (877) 633-3343 (EDGE),

I was a few notches below full-on panic when I had to teach my son, Scott, to drive. I startle easily, and I worried that my nerves might affect his driving. Would a sudden flinch hurtle us into a ditch? While we had our share of close calls, with patience—and a lot of deep breathing on my part—I taught Scott how to drive without wrecking our relationship or the car.

Phil Person, instructor for Nevada-based All American Driving School, noted that a common problem many parents have is they expect their children to be perfect. As a parent himself and a driving instructor for 49 years, Person is well-acquainted with the parent-child dynamics and perils of the road. Since most parents have been behind the wheel since their teens, driving is second nature to them.

“It is a skill—some people take longer than others,” Person said of driving.

Before your teen takes the wheel, point out careless drivers you notice while you’re driving—preferably without cursing or gestures. If your kid can develop an awareness of other drivers around him as a passenger, he’ll be ahead of the game. Also, be mindful of your own habits. Person noted that some kids unconsciously follow their parents’ example, like drifting through a stop or cruising over the speed limit.

Trooper Chuck Allen, spokesman for Nevada Highway Patrol-Northern Command and father of a young driver, pointed out that teens should always spend the time to orient themselves in the vehicle, adjusting the seat and mirrors for visibility. He also stressed the importance of limiting potential distractions for teen drivers, especially cell phones. “That is key in reducing accidents,” Allen said.

Speaking of distractions, if at all possible, leave the younger kids at home, even once your teen has established some driving experience. The “Don’t bother your brother while he’s driving” speech doesn’t work. Trust me. Siblings are the worst backseat drivers, and they overreact—every abrupt stop will be a near-death experience.

Like most things in life, with driving, timing and location are everything. The best places to practice often depend on the time of day. Freeways are generally clear on an early Sunday morning but are a congested nightmare on a Friday afternoon. Business parks are usually a safe bet during the weekends. And remember the seasonal events around Reno impact traffic conditions. During an ill-timed practice session which coincided with the close of Burning Man, we got stuck behind a dilapidated RV with a leaky septic tank. I tried to assure Scott that “traffic happens,” while holding my breath. As soon as we cleared the police checkpoint, Scott headed straight for the car wash as fast as legally possible.

Scott and I also participated in Driver’s Edge, an awesome free program recommended to me by a father of four teens. The non-profit program, whose partners include the Indy Car Series, educates kids on safety issues. Their behind-the-wheel sessions include mini-sessions on anti-lock brakes and handling skids. Driver’s Edge’s has a direct approach that resonates with kids. Allen has been involved with Driver’s Edge since its 2004 debut in Reno. “Great opportunity for teens and parents to share together,” he said of the program.

As soon as your teen has his driver’s license in hand, establish an understanding with him regarding use of the family car, with clear-cut guidelines and consequences for driving infractions or sliding grades. The privilege of driving can be a great motivator to keep kids on the straight and narrow. Also, having another licensed driver in the family means someone else can pick up the pizza on the way home.