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If you drive a car, sooner or later your child will expect to drive one too. For most teens, the day they can legally drive is the moment they want to get behind the wheel. How can you make certain your child is ready when that time comes?

First, learning to drive starts now, no matter how old your child is. As you drive through town, with your child in the backseat, talk about the rules of the road as they come up. Notice the signs and talk about what they mean. Talking about driving starts long before your child is tall enough to see over the steering wheel.

As soon as your child is old enough to sit in the passenger seat, that’s where he should sit. Now your driving conversations get more specific, as you point out possible hazards and how you handle them. Get your child thinking about driving, watching the traffic, and helping you notice dodgy situations.

Second, make it clear to your child long before he turns 16, that driving is a privilege that carries with it some heavy responsibilities. It’s not a right. Let him know that you will be watching for signals that he’s ready to drive a car and that when you see he’s ready you will agree to let him learn.

At the same time, don’t make learning to drive an exercise in extortion. Don’t make your permission dependent on getting straight As in school or setting other impossibly high standards as a prerequisite to learning to drive. Be fair and treat your child fairly.

Remember that driving is a complex skill and it takes lots of practice to get good enough at it to be safe. This means that even if your child takes driver’s ed in school or gets private lessons, you will still have to help her practice driving as much as possible. The more situations, the more weather, the more sorts of roadways your child drives under your watchful eye, the better.

Keep your eye on the law. Be careful to get things off on the right foot by keeping your child out from behind the wheel until he’s legally allowed to get a learner’s permit. Once your child gets his license, pay attention to the limitations your state puts on teen drivers. In most states, new drivers are not allowed to drive after dark or to drive with other teens in the car. Make certain your child follows the law – and make certain he knows the law even if he’s just riding while a friend drives.

Finally, as always, model what you want to see… even if you don’t want to see it for another five years. Now is the time to be mindful of your own driving, so your children see the best possible example. Don’t use your cell phone when you drive and avoid other distractions, like hunting for something on the floor while you go down the road. Don’t speed. Come to a full stop at stop signs. Do not put yourself in the position later of having to insist on rules your child thinks you yourself ignore.

When it comes to preparing a child to learn to drive, “Do as I do and do as I say,” is the safest way. Start modeling good driving now and start talking about good driving. No matter how young your child is now, the time to start driver’s ed is today.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.