Learner Drivers Prefer Dad to Mum

Britons would rather practise their driving skills with dad than mum, according to a new study1 by AA Driving School. And it's a wonder any youngsters ever reach their driving test if the stories about parents losing their temper and grabbing the steering wheel during a practice drive are anything to go by.

But despite parent gripes, more than half the population (52%) agreed that dads are better at coaching their children behind the wheel than mums (24%).

The study questioned over 1,300 adults in addition to polling AA Driving School instructors to reveal:

  • top 'knee-jerk reactions' from parents trying to coach their youngsters
  • Discrepancies between the population's and the expert view of parent instruction
  • the bad habits parents pass on to their children

Panicked parents' knee-jerk reactions

Two fifths of the population (39%) agreed that when taking their novice youngsters out on the road, it's dad who is quicker to lose his temper, whereas Mum is more likely to panic (27%). Both genders however were found guilty of knee-jerk reactions in high stress moments of coaching, with the top five being:

  1. telling the learner to slow down – 28%
  2. stamping their foot to the floor on an imaginary brake pedal – 19%
  3. telling the learner to pull over so they can drive – 15%
  4. swearing – 14%
  5. grabbing the arm rest for safety – 14%

Dad has better all-round driving knowledge

As well as voting dad the better coach, the nation also thinks fathers have a better general knowledge of three principle areas of learning to drive a car. Three quarters (73%) agreed that dads are better at teaching practical skills (such as how to check engine oil); more than half (56%) agreed that fathers have a better knowledge of road theory; two thirds (65%) also thought that dads are better at teaching driving technique such as clutch control.

What the experts say

While the nation has unanimously voted dad as the better teacher, the majority (39%) of AA Driving School instructors polled2 claim that overall there is no difference between parents in their ability to coach their children. They do however distinguish skill levels between the genders when it comes to practical skills and driving theory; 84% agreed dads are better at teaching driving technique while 92% voted mums top of the class at theory instruction.

Bad habits die hard

Although parents can play a key role in their children's driving development, AA Driving School's instructors highlighted that many parents pass on bad habits to their learner offspring. The chief gripe from the professionals is parents not using their mirrors properly (25%), not feeding the wheel, not checking the blind spot and speeding (14%) and braking too hard or late (11%).

Simon Douglas, director of the AA Driving School, comments: "It's not easy learning to drive and having a parent take a learner out on the road, regardless of whether it's mum or dad, can really help a novice driver move forward.

"Our fully qualified Driving Standards Agency (DSA) approved driving instructors recommend that learner drivers should aim for at least 60 hours of driving before taking the test, of which about 40 hours should be tutored3 between lessons and driving with a parent is often the best way to achieve this.

"But with bad habits easily passed on, we would also advise parents to let the experts do the teaching, while parents spend their time helping their children gain experience. Above all, parents should enjoy it too: the more they get out of the session, the more the learner will get out of it."

Top ten parent panics

  1. Tell them to slow down – 28%
  2. Stamp foot to the floor trying to brake – 19%
  3. Tell them to pull over so they can drive – 15%
  4. Swear – 14%
  5. Grab the arm rest for safety – 14%
  6. Tell them to speed up – 14%
  7. Grab the steering wheel – 13%
  8. Operate the lights / windscreen wipers / indicators for the learner – 12%
  9. Shut their eyes – 11 per cent
  10. Tell their child to give up learning to drive – 3%

Bad habits passed on by parent instructors

  1. Not using mirrors properly – 25%
  2. Not feeding the wheel when turning – 14%
  3. Not checking blind spots – 14%
  4. Speeding – 14%
  5. Breaking too hard or late – 11%
  6. Driving too close to the vehicle in front – 8%
  7. Letting the wheel slip through the hands – 6%
  8. Having only one hand on the wheel – 6%
  9. Coasting in neutral – 3%

Join the discussion in the AA zone


1 OnePoll survey of 1387 UK adults in February 2009

2 Thirteen AA Driving School instructors questioned in February 2009

3 Source: Driving Standards Agency

12 March 2009