Have you ever taken piano lessons? Or played organized team sports? Do you remember the hours you spent in lessons, then in practice refining those skills over and over again? Research has shown that to be merely competent at complex skills requires at least a thousand hours of structured practice. And to be an expert requires at least ten times that much. How successful do you think you would be playing the piano in front of friends and family after only a few hours of practice and instruction?

Practice, practice, and more practice

Providing practice to develop the skill of driving is even more important. What were to happen if you made a mistake at the piano? What are the consequences of a mistake behind the wheel? The consequences of a driving error could be fatal – that’s what we all hope to avoid.

The research says that to be proficient at driving requires practice, practice, and more practice. In many states, the young driver is required to have at least 50 hours of supervised driving practice. But for many parents, the very thought of getting in a car with a young driver behind the wheel can be unnerving. But how do you get driving practice if it can be dangerous?

Lowest lifetime crash risk

Believe it or not, a young driver’s lowest lifetime risk of being in a crash happens when there is a parent or driving mentor supervising the practice from the passenger seat. While this time can be stressful for both parents and novices, some of the anxiety can be mitigated by limiting driving practice to quieter roads, eliminating driving distractions, and providing structured driving practice.

Start gradually

For example, consider starting out in the very forgiving environment of an empty parking lot. Here the young driver can get used to the feel of the brake and steering wheel. Since there are no other cars or pedestrians to worry about, the young driver can focus on the vehicle controls. And mistakes in an empty parking lot aren’t likely to result in any fender benders.

Don't allow distractions while you’re practicing

During the supervised practice, you need to be able to communicate effectively with the young driver. Don’t put yourself in a position that you have to raise your voice to be heard, or have to compete with the car stereo. Turn off your cell phones, MP3 players, radios, CD players and so on. And being a safe, supportive passenger means being on the lookout for hazards in the driving environment; remember, young drivers may not recognize hazards if they’ve never seen them before.

Practice in different environments and conditions

As the young driver gains confidence you can consider moving out onto a quiet street and gradually vary the driving conditions. The key is to provide structured driving practice in a range of environments and traffic conditions that gradually increase the complexity for the young driver. Work with your young driver to develop those driving skills incrementally and build confidence gradually.

For more help on how to structure your young driver’s supervised driving practice, check out State Farm’s Road Trips.