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New driver in your future? Parental tips offered to ease rite-of-passage

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Few parents look forward to the day when they must teach their teenager to drive a car. Handing over the keys to a teenager and then riding shotgun as he or she learns the basics is hardly a recipe for a stress-free afternoon, but it's a part of life many parents must endure sooner or later, and it's a rite of passage for their children.

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While it's likely your son or daughter will not be a great driver from the get-go, there are ways parents can make the process of teaching their teen to drive less stressful and more likely to be a success.

-- Utilize an empty parking lot as a classroom. Empty parking lots are great places to teach teens to drive. In an empty parking lot, teens can practice skills like turning or braking without the risk of running into another driver. This gives kids the feel of a vehicle and an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the vehicle's controls, including those for turn signals and headlights. Find an empty parking lot that is large, such as one outside a school when it's not in session or a local business park on a weekend.

-- Find a less-traveled road to practice more subtle driving skills. Once your teen has become familiar with the vehicle, a good next step is to find a back road or a road without heavy traffic where he or she can learn more subtle driving skills that might be difficult to learn in a parking lot. Coming to a stop, maintaining a safe distance between vehicles, accelerating and decelerating on roadways and learning to share the road with pedestrians and/or cyclists are all valuable lessons that can be learned on a back road without heavy traffic.

-- Some skills, including changing lanes and merging into traffic, are best learned on the freeway or highway. Teens will eventually take to the highway once they get their driver's license, so it's best to teach them how to handle using on and off ramps and learning to yield when entering a highway so they're comfortable with such driving and don't have to teach themselves.

-- Teach kids to anticipate other drivers. Anticipating other drivers is a lesson even some veteran adult drivers must learn, much less teen drivers with little or no experience driving. When teaching teenagers to drive, emphasize how difficult it can be to anticipate other drivers' maneuvers and how defensive driving techniques are designed to help drivers predict what other drivers will do in order to protect themselves from drivers who might be unpredictable.

Teach teens to keep an eye out for drivers routinely switching lanes without signaling and tell them to be mindful of other drivers when they pull up to a stop sign. Teens who will become good drivers will eventually find such techniques are second nature, but initially parents should instruct them in the ways to anticipate the behavior of other drivers so the teens can stay safe on the road.

-- Practice driving at different times of the day. Taking teens out to drive at different times of the day can teach them that road conditions, even when the weather is nice, vary depending on the amount of light. Driving at dusk and dawn, for instance, can be difficult because glare from the sun can decrease visibility and headlights might not provide much help. Like learning to drive on the highway, learning to drive at various times of the day is a valuable lesson that kids should learn with their parents in tow and not on their own after they have received their driver's license.

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