Look at Life: Teenage Driving

3rd June 2016

The trials, tribulations and terror... of teaching your teenager to drive

By Heather Harris

‘Left hand down a bit…’ never did make any sense when my Dad muttered it with increasing urgency in my left ear as we narrowly avoided taking our next door’s dustbin.

So why, 30 years later, am I saying it with equal urgency (I am reluctant to use the word ‘shouting’) at my own daughter as she performs an 87 point turn in our drive way.

“Stop yelling. I’m doing it right.”

And she was – according to her Driving Instructor, the traditional ‘three-point turn’ has been replaced by the simple requirement to ‘turn the car in the road’. Which she was doing – albeit it over a prolonged period, during which time I could have done the school run twice and watched a major feature film.

“The trouble is, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” was her eventual response as we headed out at a steady 18mph along the High Street ahead of a tailback of 27 frustrated drivers – all suddenly destined not to get into work until lunchtime.

Again, her accusations were correct. According to the AA (that’s cars, not alcohol, although teaching twins is literally driving me to drink): ‘The problem facing parents is that the L-Test has changed beyond recognition in the past decade. It has put driving tuition beyond the capabilities of most amateur instructors, no matter how well intentioned.’

Which is all very well, but at a cost of around £25 an hour, most parents are reluctant to rely on formal instruction alone. This is particularly true when the average number of lessons needed to pass has accelerated from 30 two decades ago to 47 on today’s busier roads. And with a £23 Theory and Hazard Perception test on top.

As one parent explained, “Every time I take her out driving one of us ends up in tears – usually me – followed by at least two days of not speaking to each other. But this is a small price to pay compared to driving lessons!”

The answer, the AA tells us, is for us white-knuckled wrecks to enrol on one of their ‘Supporting Learning Driver Schemes’: two hours of specialist coaching where ‘parents are taught precisely what skills the driving test examiner will be looking for and are taught valuable coaching techniques they can apply in informal, one-to-one sessions with their offspring’.

This includes not screaming, “What! Are you blind? Are you trying to kill us?” as my son pulled out at a roundabout in front of an Ocado van (other home delivery services are available). The driver politely gesticulated his concern and a suggestion that we should perhaps ‘go off somewhere else’.

In my defence – and that of the twins because, in truth, they are improving – a lot of the stress is caused by other drivers. Seemingly oblivious to the L-plate they overtake on bends, honk repeatedly as we stall on a hill (as if this will somehow help the process of clutch control) and sit on our bumper so closely that I can decipher the slogans on their T-shirts in the rear view mirror.

The problem is that every vehicle on the road in 2016 is in a hurry. Gone are the days when people ‘go for a drive’ to take in the scenery. Now we are all either just above the speed limit or stationary in a jam, engine off, pretending not to be texting.

And that’s another distraction. For teenagers to spend an hour concentrating away from any form of ‘screen’ is purgatory. For my friend to get her daughter off her phone and into the car requires all the persuasive tactics of a specialist officer diffusing a potential hostage situation. “The terror I feel while she tries to parallel park is nothing to the terror she feels at missing out on a whole hour of Instagram.”

Perhaps the way forward is one of the increasing number of residential courses now on offer. Here learner drivers stay anything up to a week at a driving school and have lessons for six hours a day with a test at the end of it. It may seem a drastic measure but hey! – it’s cheaper than family therapy and better for all the other delayed drivers in our town. It also frees me up to lie in a darkened room for a week… and to hide the car keys for when they return.

After all there’s only one thing worse than teenagers teaching to drive – and that’s what happens when they’ve passed…

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