Learner Drivers

Reporter: Jackie Quist

White knuckled terror - it is a feeling familiar to parents of learner drivers. There's almost 600,000 learner drivers on Australian roads -- that's a lot of mums and dads risking life and limb.

Since 16-year-old Jack Purton-Smith got his licence last month, mother Meg has been driven round the bend and the mother-daughter relationship is often strained when Sally Hintson and 16- year-old daughter Amy get in the car.

With 120 hours of experience required in New South Wales and Victoria and 100 hours in Queensland, parents are spending more time instructing their children than ever before. "I tell him everything to do but then I don't. I feel bad about telling him everything to do because I don't want to sound like a whinging mum, you know, like put your foot on the break, look in the mirror!", Meg said.

Jack is yet to have professional lessons, so Meg is attempting to take charge. "Usually before we get in the car, I say try not to be nervous about anything on the road, try and keep calm, so I try to keep calm -- but inside I am a little bit like 'ahhhh help!'", Meg said.

"We get really frustrated at each other and it's not her fault and it's not my fault because I'm just learning to drive and she's just telling me what to do. But I don't really like being told what to do by her", Jack said.

"If you've got a dull life and want to have a little bit of a stress and get your blood flowing and adrenalin flowing get your child out with their L plates, teach them to drive", said psychologist, John Cheetham. According to John, riding shotgun with your child can be a losing battle. "They've witnessed for 16 years of their life, all our mistakes, all our anger, all our hostility and all the things that we've done wrong behind the wheel of a car. So there's a major credibility factor when we teach our children to drive", he said.

That may be the case, but who is the better instructor - mum or dad? "It depends on the mum or dad I think. It really doesn't matter, you wouldn't say either is the better teacher as long as they're giving a lot of experience, a lot of exposure to their child", said Chief Behavioural Scientist for the RACV, Anne Harris.

"As long as one parent, at least, is engaged and is giving their learner a lot of experience in a range of conditions, that is the most important thing", she added.

"I encourage parents to sit in with us and see how we do it as well. The tone of voice that we use, we don't yell or scream or get stressed. It's more of a nice even tone and good advice", said John Dounis, a driving instructor with Excel Drive. "The ideal situation is if a child say turns 17 or when they first get their L's, to get some professional lessons, maybe 4,5 or 6 -- whatever it takes -- maybe just 2. On the right track, pass these on to the parents, and then we can pick up the learning process down the track when they're going for their P's", John said.