You’re no doubt familiar with the yellow triangle announcing a driver has a baby on board, though it would probably make more sense to do what some countries already do: announce that there’s a new driver at the wheel. Buckle up: your teen is learning to drive.
Ontario has a graduated licencing system that has vastly increased the safety of new drivers and other road users by restricting when a new driver can drive, where they can drive, and who can be in the car. Your new driver, from age 16, can go from taking the eye test and passing the G1 written test to a full licence in about 20 months. Here’s what you can do to make the most of those 20 months.
The Driver’s Handbook
Whether you buy a copy at a Service Ontario outlet or online, it’s the key to getting that G1 licence. Questions on the written test are pulled from all sections of the book, and they are changed frequently. The online practice tests are a great resource to prepare your teen and can calm the ‘test jitters’ – plus, this is a great chance to brush up on your own skills. Learn along with your new driver about changes to road laws, and scrub off bad habits you may have developed from years of driving. Once they’ve got their G1, it’s time to let your insurance company know.
Let the pros teach them
Your insurance company will have a list of accredited driving instruction schools. Split between classroom and in-car sessions, completion of the course will save you later on insurance premiums, but it’s important for more reasons than that – knowing how to drive and teaching someone how to drive are two very different things. Learning how to confidently pilot a complex piece of machinery around our roadways means being able to concentrate on just that. A learning driver’s focus can be splintered by worrying about getting it wrong in front of a parent, and your nervousness will affect them.
Practice, practice, practice
Leave some extra time to avoid pressure, but make getting your new driver as much wheel time as possible a priority. Even those school drop-offs or a run to the grocery store will provide much-needed repetition of important fundamentals: intersections, parking lots, speed limits, school zones, and most importantly, other drivers. If being the copilot makes you anxious, ask another qualified driver to help out.
Pick a car, any car
You might not have had your 16-year-old in mind when you chose your car a few years ago, but they can safely learn to drive in any vehicle with some planning. Go over the safety systems in your vehicle, and run through what all the instruments and warning signs mean. Get out the owner’s manual if you have to, but teach them how to open the hood, check tire pressures, fill up the fuel tank or plug the car in, where the spare tire is, how to work wipers and all lights, and how to call for help. Make a plan for how to handle a breakdown. All drivers should know how to put on their hazard lights - or four-way flashers - without looking at the dash. Teaching them this allows others around them to know they’re experiencing difficulty.
Make rules, but be flexible for safety
The law states that any driver under age 21 must have a zero blood alcohol (BAC) level if they’re behind the wheel, and they likewise must have no cannabis or other impairing drug in their system. But have a talk with your new driver about other things that can affect them when they drive. Being tired, being upset, being angry - all of these moods can impact a driver’s ability to drive safely. As a parent, you might have zero tolerance about curfews, for example, but encourage your new driver to communicate and not take unnecessary risks – and be flexible with those expectations. Do institute a no phone rule, and use settings that tell callers a driver will reply when they’re out of the car.
Their driving, your insurance
When your new driver passes the first G2 road test, they will become an official occasional driver on your policy. Discuss the importance of maintaining a clean record, and know your premium is based on the newest driver’s rating. Your insurance also follows your car, which has implications surrounding who has permission to drive it. Make sure your new driver understands this.
What if they don’t want to get their licence?
While reports across the country indicate that fewer young people are getting their licences than ever before, it’s a good idea to suggest to your teen that they at least consider this skill. The easiest time to get your licence is when there’s access to a vehicle, and an experienced driver in-house to help practice. Many jobs they consider later on may require a driver’s licence; plus, where they eventually live might mean different circumstances, and much of Canada has limited transit options. Having a clean driving record - even if they’re not driving - will assist in later years if they go to get insurance coverage. A driver you are with can become incapacitated for a variety of reasons, and knowing you can take control is a good thing. Treat it like a skill.
One more note: children don’t start learning to drive at 16. They are developing their awareness and attitude towards it from the time they’re strapped into car seats. Your behaviour, how you react, and how good a driver you are is a crucial part of how they will approach driving. Consistently model being a knowledgeable, undistracted driver who takes this everyday action as the important, serious thing that it is.