Right when teens drop their first kint about driving lessons is when parents should tidy up their own road skills notes Donna McIntyre

Learning to drive. We all have vivid memories of our experiences. Mine include revving a Ford Anglia without releasing the clutch or handbrake, on my first hill start attempt on a steep gravel road. And the traffic officer who tested me, dithering over whether my less-than-perfect parallel park would fail me. When he said, "Oh, alright then," I was out of that little Anglia and completing the licence paperwork before he could change his mind.

Now, as a parent, my plan was to write this article in tandem with my 17-year-old sitting his driving test. But, after an initial burst of enthusiasm that went as far as buying the road code manual, the road to his driver's licence is still wide open and empty.

If he's not keen, I won't nag, I tell Karen Dickson, national manager for the AA Driving School.

Turns out I've made the right call. Karen says the school gets phone calls from parents asking how they can motivate their son/daughter to learn to drive and she tells them that it's the kids who will decide when they're ready to learn. "If they're motivated to learn, they will learn much faster."


Of course, driving safely includes learning about weather and driving conditions, spatial awareness and adjusting to different vehicles. Plus the cost of insuring the car for under-25s.

"Global studies show driving is one of the most complex things we do. It involves multitasking and it's life-affecting if we don't do it right," says Karen.

But teens reach the stage where they want to learn to drive so they can be more independent. Their initiation is that first, tentative outing when they bunny hop the car as they learn to use the accelerator and, perhaps, a clutch.

The AA school suggests that learner drivers, once they pass their theory test, take a couple of driving lessons with an instructor and practise safe driving with Mum, Dad or another qualified driver. "We talk about a three-legged stool: the student being keen, Mum or Dad being supportive and the driving instructor."

(Mum or Dad probably needs a refresher read of the road code, too, especially with changes such as the one to the right hand rule.)

"We've had feedback from kids saying they have had to unlearn what Mum or Dad has told them," says Karen.

Going Solo (download it at aa.co.nz) and online sites, such as safeteendriver.co.nz and eDrive.co.nz, help learners improve theory and practical skills. Defensive driving courses teach decision-making and reduce the time spent on L plates.

"Defensive driving can mean the difference between a white cross and surviving," says Karen.

Also, people teaching teens to drive must choose their words carefully as teenagers often take instructions literally.

"We had one instructor who told a young driver to go straight through a roundabout. And she did - straight over the roundabout - there were flowers everywhere," Karen says.

Annabelle Cray, 18, learned to drive on the North Shore. She got her restricted licence in February. Lessons with an AA instructor were supplemented by driving with her parents.

"Dad gave me some tuition but I found it easier to learn with the driving instructor. Dad's a good driver but it was hard for him to explain something that he has been doing his whole life."

She found the instinctual part of driving easiest. "The hardest were technical things like indicating at roundabouts and changing lanes and the general rules. The driving instructor would keep testing me on the rules while I was driving. I recommend you do at least two lessons before you sit your test. The driving instructor and I went through the course he thought I'd have for my test and filled in the details of what I was missing, like checking for blind spots and adjusting mirrors."

Avondale College student Rebeka Wolfgramm, 17, has her learner licence but finds the biggest challenge is finding time to practise.

"It's good learning with my Dad because he is patient and he does an hour-long lesson at the weekend but he can't find the time at the moment."

Rebeka is also taking driving lessons through her school. Avondale College is working with the Rosebank/Waterview Neighbourhood Policing Team to test a sponsored learner and restricted driver programme for Year 12 and 13 students. Balloted students have a seminar and individual driving assessments with a qualified driving instructor all for $40. Ten of the 11 students on the first term's course passed the test.

Rebeka hopes to sit her practical in a couple of months. "I'm a bit nervous as most people say they fail. "If I wasn't doing the course through the school, it would be a lot of money to fail. That's what puts a lot of people off."

The road to driving
Learner licence

Must be 16 or older, must pass learner theory test, learner licence issued. Learner drivers must display L-plates and be accompanied by a driving instructor or supervisor in the front passenger seat. The supervisor can allow them to carry passengers. There is a zero alcohol limit for learner drivers under 20.

Restricted licence

Must hold learner licence for at least six months before sitting the practical restricted test. Zero alcohol and normally you cannot carry passengers unless a supervisor is with you.

Full licence

Young drivers under 25 must hold their restricted licence for at least 18 months - reduced to 12 months if they complete a defensive driving course. After passing their full licence practical driving test, their full licence is issued.

Source: Learn to Drive the AA Way.