When we moved from the UK last year, one of the first orders of business was to set in motion the driver’s education for my eldest child.
She was thrilled, can I tell you! In the UK, you cannot start lessons until after you’re 17, so she was certainly the envy of her friends when she started posting snaps of her sitting behind the wheel.
Envy was not the emotion that I shared. Without being stereotypical about this, there were moments, I admit, when I was terrified.
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust her. I just knew she had NO preparation for this whatsoever. Compare that to my own driving experience: growing up on a farm, I was driving trucks and tractors from the time I was 10, so when it was the season for pursuing my own license back in the mumble-somethings, I’d already logged many hours in delicate maneuvers such as backing up to trailer hitches, plowing fields, lining up baling equipment to suck up mounds of freshly mowed hay.
My daughter, on the other hand, possessed no feel for the shape of the car whatsoever. She couldn’t work out where her passenger-side corner was on a right turn, for example; or, when backing up, what angles were happening at the front end.
To be fair, you have to remember that I said we moved from the UK. You know, one of the countries in this world that drives on the left instead of the right. When we come to an intersection – whether driving or on a bike or even walking – we first look RIGHT… then LEFT… then RIGHT again.
Think about it… you first look left.
So we were pretty much on alien territory from the get-go.
Let me just cut to the end and say that she did end up passing her practical test the first time.
I think this was a combination of several things we managed to do right. The main thing was that we took our time.
I know there is more than one way to skin a cat, but I’ll share with you what we did:
1. A friend recommended that we use the online program run by National Driver Training. The website is: www.usdrivertraining.com. The parent-led option costs only $76 and guides the student through getting a learner’s permit to taking the final test; it gives you all the paperwork and instructions for each stage; it tracks your student’s progress and sends you updates about their test scores for each module; and best of all, it’s one of the recognized companies for getting a discount on your car insurance when you get that far (note: you only have to pay for your teen’s coverage once he/she has passed the driving test, not during the provisional-license stage).
2. We took a year from start to finish, far exceeding the number of hours required by the driving course. This meant she had a lot of experience in the routes she would drive most regularly, and ended up with a pretty good geographical awareness of our town. She also perfected the hug-the-corner right turn!
3. As the driving test was looming, we paid for a couple of lessons with a local driving school. They gave her good tips for parallel parking that were better than my method (“Just copy what I do”), and took her around some unfamiliar areas with heavier traffic…in THEIR student car!
4. We were lucky to book our test in a small town about ten miles away, rather than the more urban areas nearer to. Then we went to practice in their area, used their parallel-parking bays, and got her confidence up. Be aware that most test centers are booked up a month or more in advance, so plan ahead!
Finally, you might want to think about which vehicle your teen is going to be driving once the test is finished. Since we had only moved from Britain recently and had only one car, I needed to buy another one, or having a teen driver to run errands and take herself to early-morning swim practice wasn’t going to free me up for the things I needed to do at the same time.
Here’s one thing I wish insurance companies did better: when I phoned up to ask what is the cheapest kind of car to insure for a teen driver, they didn’t say, “Oh, a 2008 Honda Odyssey,” or something like that.
Instead, they said, “Well, what car are you thinking about buying and we’ll look it up.”
And not just which KIND of car, but which car exactly – I’m talking the VIN number!
OK, it just so happened that I knew the answer to this – I was able to provide the VIN number of my brother’s old Kia Rondo he was looking to sell, and got a really good deal on the premium via my insurance company, Texas Farm Bureau, because we used National Drivers’ Training AND she is an “A” student AND she is homeschooled, but as a general rule, I’m afraid it really is trial and error on this point.
The Rondo is a lovely car for a teen, by the way – roomy with great visibility. Too bad they’re not making them anymore!
Kat has degrees in English from both the US and the UK, and taught in UK secondary schools. Fun fact: secondary school teachers have to teach classes of ALL the grades each year, so instead of having 4 or 5 sets of 6th graders, they have one set in each of the 7 years. More evidence of British inefficiency!!! Kat now uses this vast experience and expertise to teach online courses in English for high school homeschoolers all over the world. You can read more of her work on her family blog at boyschooling.blogspot.com.