Friday 24 January 2020

L-earner on board: When your teen wants to learn to drive

So your teenager wants to learn to drive. But should you encourage them and, if you do, what is the correct protocol to follow? Bernice Barrington reports

IT can seem impossible to believe, but suddenly the little tot you remember driving around in his toy play car suddenly wants to learn to drive for real. And seemingly out of nowhere you have to weigh up factors such as the practicality of getting around with issues such as cost and road safety.

The latter relates to the frightening statistic that 17–24-year-old road users are three times more likely to be killed on Irish roads than any other road user. With this in mind, keeping the car keys firmly out of their way can seem not just a wise decision but a potentially life-saving one. That said, for families living in rural areas, driving is often more a necessity than a luxury, and with public transport in this country still wanting, it's easy to understand why teenagers wish to learn to drive at a younger age.

Karl Walsh, director of the Irish School of Motoring, believes that learning to drive at a young age can be a good thing, but that young people must receive proper instruction.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with someone learning to drive at 17. People range in maturity whatever age they are; ultimately it's about having the right mentality and parents can be a good judge of whether their child is ready for the responsibility of learning to drive. Really it's about giving them the right instruction and the right starting point."

For many of us, that starting point was learning from our parents and hitting the road long before we were ready, with a slightly slapdash 'I'll be grand' approach to safety. And while Walsh says that showing your child the very basics before their first driving lesson isn't a bad idea, allowing them to drive up and down your driveway when they're 16 isn't necessarily setting the best example.

"Your child can do their theory test at 16, and technically it isn't illegal for them to drive a car at that age on private property. But it does tend to send out the wrong message. The problem is they can become overconfident, think they're great drivers and next thing you know, they've bumped into a pillar when you're out. They have to be taught that driving is a lot more complicated than that and I think it's wise to make them wait until the legal age of 17."

In 2011, the Road Safety Authority (RSA) introduced the Essential Driving Training programme, which means 12 hours essential driving training (EDT) for all learner drivers. Once a learner driver receives their learner permit (previously called the provisional licence) they must then complete 12 hours compulsory driving instruction with a qualified driving instructor.

But will a novice driver have fully grasped the complex concepts of driving in such a short period of time, even if they are practising with their parents between lessons?

"In most European countries, the mandatory amount of compulsory driving lessons required would be 25–27 hours," says Walsh. "And I would certainly like to see the number of mandatory hours in Ireland brought up to at least 20." For that reason he says he would encourage parents to consider increasing professional lessons to more than just the mandatory number of 12.

But what with money tight these days, can't a parent just teach their children themselves alongside the mandatory EDT? After all, the RSA does recommend a driving sponsor who can help a learner reinforce the techniques they have learned in their driving lesson.

"Well, yes, that can be done, but you must realise there are cost and safety issues around that too. If you are going to teach your child, you must insure them and that can be extremely expensive.

"The thinking on the continent is that they spend the money on the driving lessons and passing their test rather than the learner insurance and ultimately this often works out cheaper. Also, the child will have been taught to drive properly by experienced professionals. When it boils down to it, parents aren't driving instructors so the child may end up picking up their bad habits."

He does, however, agree with teaching your child the raw basics before the first lesson, such as the controls on a car and learning how to find the biting point on a clutch. But while these technical bits may be reasonably easy to grasp, how do you make a child understand the huge responsibility involved in driving a car?

"I suppose during a driving lesson we point out all the errors that a learner driver is making, so that way safe driving becomes ingrained from the very beginning.

"You're constantly reinforcing the point. On the other hand, if you're a 17-year-old boy learning from another 17-year-old boy or a parent who has never taken a driving lesson, the risk of not understanding how potentially dangerous a car can be is much higher."

Ultimately though, Walsh believes that learning to drive at a young age can be good thing.

"There's a mantra in the business that you need a lesson for every year of your life, so if you're 17, you should need about 17 lessons to learn to drive, whereas if you're a pensioner you may need up to sixty. Young people learn quickly and easily. The thing to give them though is the right training from the very start."

For more information on all aspects of road safety and learning to drive, see the Road Safety Authority's website, which also has details of approved driving instructors, www.rsa.ie. For more details on the Irish School of Motoring, see www.ism.ie

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