Teen Drivers: There is NO Substitute for Experience

Our teen driver got her licence in March. After 6 months of driving everywhere she goes (with Mom as a passenger) and spending countless hours on the weekends driving (with Dad as the instructor), she now has a piece of paper that says she is capable of driving on her own. {Insert fear and trepidation here!}
Teen Drivers: There is NO Substitute for Experience from Starts At Eight

As you heard me say when I was sharing Tips for Teaching Teen Drivers, my husband was a driving instructor back in the day. He taught hundreds of people – teens and adults alike – to drive.

This naturally left him in charge of teaching our own offspring to not only drive, but to be a good, capable, competent driver. And I never once questioned his or her capability.

Teen Drivers – There is NO Substitute for Experience

Here’s the thing about teen drivers – there’s no substitute for experience. You have to teach, trust, and let them go.

So on March 10th we did just that. We sent our teenage daughter on her maiden voyage all on her own… and for the record, not once did I worry or question her driving.

Maiden Voyage

However, we did put our little disclaimer stamp on her saying,

“She is a 16 year old driver. She is a good 16 year old driver, but there is no substitute for experience.”

What Experience Gets You

I have been driving for over 20 years. I have totaled a car, I have slid off the road, and I have run stop signs. Each of these little experiences has taught me something, made me more aware somehow, and has gone into my experience bucket. The more driving you do, the more situations you encounter, and the more capable you become at handling things that arise.

Once you have lost control of a vehicle due to road conditions such as snow, or ice/water, you don’t typically make that mistake again. You keep your speeds lower, your eyes wide open on the road ahead, and you break more gently and much sooner. This is what experience gets you.

My teenage daughter’s experience bucket got much fuller just a few weeks after she got her license. It was an April day – the one where it decided to snow storm here in Upstate NY. She left the house like any other school day. She texted me before she headed for home and I reminded her about being careful due to the road conditions. And then she called.

She braked, but it was too late (not that she thought that at the time, but she did). She hit a patch of slushy snow on the side of the road and lost control. She spun around multiple times, and hit two guard rails, the first of which she had to have been going around 50 mph.

My heart and head raced. But above all I remained calm. She was alright, no one else was involved and she wasn’t being reckless. Did she make a mistake? Yup! Was it her fault? Yup! Did she have an error in judgement? Yup! Did she learn something? Oh yeah. And nothing we ever could have said would give her that kind of experience. We are just grateful that she is alright and no one else was involved.

The Accident Collage

I will say it again because it bears repeating, THERE IS NO SUBSTITUENT FOR EXPERIENCE. In fact, there were plenty of experienced drivers in accidents that morning too. The police officer that came to the scene said he and 5 others were patrolling that area and that each of them were on their 4/5 accidents of the morning.

She drove again, that very same day, and every day since. I still stand behind the fact that she is a good driver. It was an accident, she made a mistake, she learned, and it does not define her.

The Moral of the Story?

New Driver Collage

DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE! Let your teen drive with you everywhere, in all conditions, and all types of driving. Nothing is more valuable than the experiences they will gain and the insight you can give during those times. But know in the end that they have to drive alone, they have to gain their own experience, and you have to be there if something goes wrong.