Somehow, I thought it would be my husband, not me, but when my son asked me to be his sponsor and take him out on driving practice, I was immensely flattered (and terrified) – not necessarily in equal measure.
Rarely have our goals so keenly aligned in recent years: he desperately wants to learn how to drive, and I want it for him too, but with an added incentive of also wanting to ensure he becomes a safe driver (and the hours he spends behind the wheel of video games racing in cars doesn’t get translated into real life).
So, what should you ensure you have before embarking on driving practice with your son or daughter? I ask Paul Kenny, ISM’s (Irish School of Motoring) training services manager and an experienced approved driving instructor.
What you need
“Insurance, a valid learner permit, L plates and patience,” he replies. “Sponsors must have held a full licence for at least two years, but ideally you would have five years of driving experience and have driven at least 100,000km.”
Next, you need to determine when the right time is to begin driving practice.
“Not every learner is the same,” Paul says. “Some fast adapters would be safe to go and do additional training with their parents quite early. The 12 essential driver training (EDT) sessions your son or daughter is completing is documented session by session in their learner log book, and you should reference this to give you guidance on their progress.”
Paul also recommends having a positive relationship with the instructor and giving them a call to check whether the learner is ready and to discuss their development.
Getting the green light
Once you have the green light from the instructor, plan your route and your session at a quiet time of day. “The best thing to do is find a quiet place, you drive them there, let them build up your confidence by driving lefts and rights and, if you feel comfortable, they can drive home,” advises Paul.
“The Road Safety Authority (RSA) suggests that for every hour that a learner does with an approved driving instructor they should complete an additional two hours with their sponsor,” adds Paul.
“I put the emphasis onto the learner that they have to manage their sponsor because I tell them honestly – ‘If you have an active sponsor, you’re in a minority.’ Unfortunately, these days, if parents have an automatic car, they can’t support a learner if they’re doing manual. A lot of the time they tend to just be too busy and that’s usually a sign of how nervous they are, so they tend to shy away.”
Back to basics
From Paul’s experience “learners will generally benefit from either parent if they show patience, encouragement and support.” Expect nerves on both sides, but whether your learner is nervous or over-confident, Paul recommends taking it back to basics at the start.
“Use the cockpit drills before moving off to ensure the seat, steering and mirrors are correctly positioned and make sure you’re aware of all the controls such as the wipers, lights and demisters for your front and rear windows,” advises Paul.
Swapping between the instructor’s car and your own car can present difficulties for learners, so don’t assume the learner will be at the same level in terms of driving ability in your car, explains Paul.
“It’s not going to be the same. The only thing that’s consistent is the word ‘car’, they’re very different animals, so go back to the start and work together as a team.”
If something does happen when you’re out on driving practice, take a moment to take stock and learn from the mistake. “It’s likely as part of the learner journey that things won’t always go as expected,” says Paul.
“If such a situation occurs, find a safe place to park the vehicle and switch off the engine. Take time to reflect on what happened and why it happened. You may find if you keep going errors can snowball quite quickly, so take your time and reflect and start again.
“It’s important the learner doesn’t put pressure on themselves and doesn’t feel pressure from their sponsor or instructor. Learning to drive is a really important step in a young person’s development and they should enjoy the experience,” says Paul.
So, with my foot hovering above the imaginary brake pedal in the passenger footwell and my knuckles white from gripping my seat, we set off on our first driving practice. Wish us both luck!
• Familiarise yourself with the vehicle you are using for your lessons. This includes wipers, mirrors, lights, gears, seat and steering adjustment.
• Don’t forget to keep your theory test notes and material to hand so you can revise before the test.
• Remember the speed limit is not a target; understand when to slow down and when it is safe to progress on both open roads and in slow-zone residential areas.
• Most driving test routes are within a five-kilometre radius of the test centre. Make sure you are familiar with your intended test area.
• Consider using the same pair of comfortable shoes for the duration of your lessons and driving test. Flat-soled shoes are recommended to ensure responsive contact with the pedals.
• There are some fantastic videos on YouTube to assist learners on their journey. Check out @worlddriving and @danetyghelestdrive.