Your child learning to drive: feelings and facts
Learning to drive – it’s something many teenagers can’t wait to do, but it can make some parents nervous. There are plenty of media reports about crashes involving young people, so it’s natural to feel anxious about this new phase of your child’s life.
It might help to know that the risk of a crash when a learner is behind the wheel is lower than when an experienced adult is driving. Also, most P-platers drive safely and legally, particularly if they get plenty of supervised driving experience before getting their licences.
Planning ahead for learning to drive
If you plan ahead, you can help your child become a safe and responsible driver.
The early to mid-teen years, before your child is old enough to get a learner permit, is a good time to start thinking about your child learning to drive. Some things you might consider include the following:
- What your child is learning from how you drive – you’re a role model for your child, so it’s important to think about whether you want your child to drive the way you do.
- How your child will learn – that is, whether to teach your child yourself or use a driving instructor or a combination of both.
- The legal requirements in your state for learner drivers and provisional drivers – for example, most states have a minimum number of hours that learner drivers must do, and some restrict the number of passengers or type of car that a newly licensed driver can drive.
- Rules about using the family car – for example, whether your child can drive with friends in the car after getting his P-plates, or whether he can drive at night.
- Car insurance – that is, checking that your car insurance covers your teenage driver.
It’s a good idea to let your child know that learning to drive and getting a driving licence is just the start of a lifelong learning process.
Learning to drive: getting started
The first step in learning to drive is getting a learner permit or licence. For this, your child needs to be 16 years old – except in the ACT, where it’s 15 years and 9 months.
In some states, you just fill in a learner licence application form. In other states, your child must also pass a written or computer-based test on road rules. Some states also have an eyesight test.
In most Australian states and territories, learner drivers must gain driving experience on the road before they can do the test to get their Ps. They must do their learner driving under the supervision of a driver who holds a full unrestricted licence.
The number of driving hours learners must do and other rules – like whether they must pass a hazards test – vary across states and territories.
Restrictions on learner permits also differ across states and territories – for example, the maximum speed and blood alcohol level.
When learner drivers pass their driving test, they can get their Ps. The minimum age at which drivers can get their Ps ranges from 16 years and 6 months in the Northern Territory to 18 years in Victoria. It’s 17 years in other states and territories.
Learning to drive: practical steps
Driving practice with you is a free and effective way for your child to learn. Here are some tips that can make it a safe and positive experience for everyone:
- When you’re driving, talk about what you’re doing and why. This is a good way to start helping your child learn to read the road.
- Discuss in advance the ground rules of driving. A basic rule might be that when you say to stop the car, your child needs to stop immediately and ask questions later.
- Stay calm. If your child isn’t following your instructions, ask her to pull over, and then gently tell her what she needs to do. Driving is stressful for teenagers, so if you stay calm it’ll help to keep your child calm behind the wheel too.
- Give your child lots of opportunities to drive in a range of conditions – for example, at night, on freeways and in the rain. This way he experiences these conditions for the first time under your supervision.
- Consider using a qualified driving instructor for some lessons. A qualified instructor will ensure your child learns the most current road rules and is ready for the licence test.
Many driving schools let you come along for the first lesson, so you can see how your child is being taught. This can guide the way you teach your child. An Australian Government-funded program called Keys2drive gives learner drivers and their supervisors a free lesson with an accredited driving instructor.
Modelling and reinforcing safe driving
Your child learns about driving not only from formal lessons, but also by watching how you drive. You have a big role to play in modelling safe, legal and responsible driving and road use, even when your child is younger – for example, by sticking to the speed limit, obeying road signs, and being considerate of other road users including pedestrians and cyclists. You could even refresh your knowledge of road rules by downloading the rules from your state’s road and traffic authority website.
You can reinforce safe driving messages and role-modelling with family rules that support road rules and regulations. These might include rules about limiting passengers or driving late at night.
Positive relationships between parents and teenagers are linked to lower levels of risky driving. Our article on staying connected with your child has suggestions for building those bonds.
Children of parents with a history of road crashes and road safety violations are more likely to be involved in crashes or break road laws themselves.
Common causes of road crashes among younger drivers
Being inexperienced is the biggest risk factor for young people when they first start driving by themselves.
Other common risk factors for road crashes in younger drivers are:
- speeding: this is the biggest killer of young drivers
- distraction: this includes the effects of passengers talking and texting on mobile phones
- driving at night: this includes fatigue and factors like reduced vision
- type of vehicle: young drivers who share their parents’ cars are less risky on the road. So it’s a good idea to delay the purchase of your teenage child’s own car if possible
- alcohol use: compared to older drivers, young drivers are less likely to drink and drive and to drink less if they do drink and drive. But when they do drink and drive, their risk of crashing is higher.
Learning to drive with additional needs
Some young people have a medical condition that can affect their ability to drive – for example, epilepsy, diabetes, disability or other additional need. All states and territories have rules covering these situations.
Licensing requirements and additional needs provisions
Australian Capital Territory
- ACT Government – Driver licence information: Getting a learner licence
- ACT Government – Driver licence information: Getting a provisional licence
- ACT Government – Driver licence information: Medical conditions
New South Wales
- NSW Roads & Maritime Services – Learner licence
- NSW Roads & Maritime Services – Provisional P1 licence
- NSW Roads & Maritime Services – Provisional P2 licence
- NSW Roads & Maritime Services – Health, medicals and disabilities
- Northern Territory Government – Get your driver licence
- Northern Territory Government – Medical fitness to drive
- Queensland Government – Getting a learner licence
- Queensland Government – P1 provisional licence
- Queensland Government – P2 provisional licence
- Queensland Government – Medical fitness to drive
- mylicence.sa.gov.au – Learner’s stage
- mylicence.sa.gov.au – P1 provisional licence
- mylicence.sa.gov.au – P2 provisional licence
- mylicence.sa.gov.au – Fitness to drive
- Tasmanian Government Department of State Growth – Pre-learner stage
- Tasmanian Government Department of State Growth – Novice licensing system
- Tasmanian Government Department of State Growth – Assessing fitness to drive