When parents teach their kids to drive
Parents all around the world teach their kids to drive, but are they making them better or worse drivers? Here’s my story.
LIKE MANY OF YOU my parents (in your case, your parents) had a hand in teaching me (and when I say, me, I mean it was your parents who taught you to drive, oh, forget about it) to drive. And, like many of you, it was the family car that was used to teach me (you) the basics of road lore… or was that, what not to do.
Growing up, the Bober driveway was filled with, at various times, Japanese sports cars that had been quietly tuned off their head (so that Mum didn’t find out), to a Rover 3500 that was built, so it seemed, out of solid steel, but had been given a 5.0-litre V8, adjustable racing shocks, and a so-loud-my-ears hurt exhaust… while, at the same time, an ex-racer Jaguar XJS V12 in midnight blue lurked on the driveway with menace. Others followed, but the story starts here.
It was the Rover 3500 I remember best, and while I never got to drive it I spent plenty of time being ferried about by my old man in it. And he drove the thing like it was a low-flying F-111. He set a new (unofficial, of course) speed record between Bathurst and Blayney, and damn near maxed the thing out on a run to Dubbo. He got caught speeding in the thing so many times he went close to losing his licence – the judge left him with one point so that he could drive his work van (the old man was self employed and we didn’t want to live under a bridge). Even ducking to the shops with Dad was like a hot lap with Jack Brabham. And then Mum crashed it (she was a nurse, had worked a week of night shift and then fell asleep at the wheel – while fatigue didn’t kill anyone in this instance it absolutely could have).
With the Rover a metal cube, the menacing looking XJS V12 was sold. Both were replaced with a first-generation Land Rover Discovery three-door. See, my parents had decided that they needed to replace something stupidly quick with something stupidly slow. And this decision was made just as I was learning to drive. Yay, for me.
Did I mention the Discovery my parents bought was a manual? So, forget hooning about in the family Falco-dore like my mates, nope, I was taught to drive in a wet weekend that had a gearbox that didn’t like to be used. Oh, and when it went around corners it leaned over so much you thought the wing mirrors would scrape along the ground.
My first day of driving lessons, after I’d received my Learner’s permit was out in an industrial estate. Oh, and I should mention that from the moment I passed my Learner’s test onwards neither Mum nor Dad spoke about road rules, other than to say giveway to the right… and the old man would add: slow in, fast out.
So, the industrial estate. It was a Sunday and the Land Rover was burbling away while I gingerly placed the L-plates front and rear of it before climbing up and into the thing. And then the lecture began, from Dad. Always use the clutch when changing gears, don’t force the gearbox (I think he kept forgetting we were in a Land Rover Discovery as he mentioned this every single time), don’t scratch the car, stay on the road (because I’ve just washed and waxed it) and don’t take Kenny Rogers out of the cassette player.
With those sage words of wisdom ringing in my ears, I let the clutch out like it was a snake trying to bite my foot and the car stalled after lurching forwards. Try again. Same. Try again. Same. Try again. Got it, no, stalled. Try again. And this time I got it; the car inched forward as my right foot pressed the throttle. And then it came time to brake and I forgot to use the clutch and the Disco stalled. My old man was turning red with frustration and rage. But, to his credit we kept going and eventually I could crawl around the empty industrial estate at about 20km/h.
We did that for a few more weeks until I was able to drive the thing at the speed limit, brake, indicate, and move off again. Changing from second to third always caught me out, though, and it sent my old man troppo. He used to say the stick naturally wanted to go from second to third gear but, again, I think he’d forgotten that we were driving a first-generation Discovery and both second and third gear in that thing had had an argument when being installed in the factory and didn’t want anything to do with one another.
The crunching drove him around the bend. So the baton was handed to Mum. And she was as mild-mannered as the old man was on-edge with me behind the wheel of his precious. Mum made the mistake of taking me to Mount Panorama (I grew up in Bathurst) before I’d fully mastered the second to third gear shift. Let’s just say we completed one, slow, noisy lap before she called a driving instructor.
After two lessons with a driving instructor I’d become a better driver than in the months before with Mum and Dad. And that’s because while they knew the basics of driving and how to get a car from A to B, they couldn’t communicate it in a way that was conducive to me learning it. They were frustrated when I got things wrong, and I don’t blame them.
See, my parents, like yours didn’t have to go through the same rigmarole as I did when going for a licence. See when they’d gone for their driver’s licence about all they had to do was drive a police officer, who was usually a family friend, down to the pub at the end of their shift… or something like that. At least when Mum went for her Scooter licence she literally drove around the block while the policeman waited for her; that she hadn’t died halfway around obviously meant she was fit to ride the thing. Hmm.
And then there was the inbuilt driving habits of Mum and Dad. The old man liked cars. And he liked fast cars even more. And he liked driving fast cars, fast even more than that. It meant I grew up thinking it was okay to push the limits, overtake, and just generally drive as if you were on a flying lap at Mt Panorama. And then there was Mum who wasn’t a lead foot but drove in such a way that if she did make a mistake behind the wheel it was always the other driver’s fault.
These days, though, and now that they’re driving around my own kids I’m grateful that they’re both older and wiser. My old man’s lead foot has been replaced by one that’s as light as a feather, becoming almost giddy as he reaches the speed limit. And Mum is a much more attentive and considerate driver.
So, what’s the point of this long-winded waffle? Simply to say that if you are going to take on the responsibility of teaching your child/children to drive, remember that no matter how good you think you are (and saying, I’ve never had a speeding ticket, or crashed a car is not testament to your skill behind the wheel) every little thing you do behind the wheel is being watched and absorbed by the mini-people sitting behind you in the car.
So, for goodness sake, enrol them in a driving course, take them karting, let them watch car racing on TV… just let them have some independent experiences behind the wheel of a vehicle that will help them to develop their own personality, skills and ability behind the wheel of a vehicle. Oh, and remember that with each year that passes from the moment you got your licence to know the requirements for getting your licence have become more difficult and perhaps less useful for the learner driver.
Then, once your kids have a driver’s licence, like my parents you might buy your kids a car. Mine did and then I worked off the purchase price by working in my old man’s business on weekends and on days off from uni. The choice? For me it was either a Fiat X1/9 or a Toyota Tercel.
I agonised over that decision for weeks… both cars were being sold by our local mechanic and at the same price. The Fiat looked like a miniature Lamborghini. But I didn’t choose it. Nope, I went for the literally beige Tercel. And I loved it.
It had just enough power to make it up a hill with all my mates in the thing, but never enough that I could get myself into trouble. I learned more about driving in that car than anything else I’ve done since. It taught me about rev matching, flaring downshifts, left-foot braking (although God only knows why I left-foot braked in that car) and about driving on dirt roads and what understeer was all about. More than that, the car was reliable and when it did break down it could usually be fixed with a bit of wire and gaffer tape.
My advice, for what it’s worth… Try and steer, pardon the pun, your kids towards a car that’s safe and reliable, rather than one that looks cool or will impress their mates. Because driving a vehicle isn’t a right, it’s a privilege and it should be treated with all seriousness, because getting it wrong in a car can happen in the blink of an eye, and I know that because I once parked a $400,000 Mercedes-AMG CLK63 Black Series in a fence, but that’s a story for another time.
In the meantime, please share your stories from learning to drive a car in our comments section below.