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Here in New Zealand, the driver licensing system has three stages: Learner, Restricted, Full. Both of my teenage sons (16yo and 18yo, autistic) have their Learner licenses, and are ready to go to Restricted. They live with their mother (my ex-wife) in the same town as I live, and over the past 10 years, I've had weekly contact with them. During that time, they haven't really walked around town by themselves much, nor done much bike riding, despite the fact that we live in a small city. The 16yo lived with us for a while, during which time he biked a lot more, and had a paper delivery run. The autistic one doesn't like cycling very much. This means that neither of them have very developed spatial awareness. I'm autistic too, so I also struggle with it sometimes, but I've learned to be very aware when driving (also, I biked everywhere when I was their age). The 16yo especially keeps asking me for driving lessons.

Here's the problem: I share my car (which I bought) with my partner, their step-mother, such that we consider the car 'ours'. Since the boys don't have much experience on the road, she thinks that they're not 'ready' for lessons (even though they've had a few with their mother). She insists that until they have walked/biked the streets a lot more, they don't have the awareness and road skills necessary for driving. On the couple of occasions that I have given them lessons, she's admonished me, citing their lack of awareness as reason they're not ready. I've put my 16yo off without giving a reason when he's asked before (such as "not today, ok?"). Her children grew up on a farm, so they started driving quad bikes when they were pre-teens. Driver training is generally outside my budget, so it makes sense for me to give them lessons.

I don't know how to approach the situation. Do I tell the boys that I can't teach them? Do I try to convince my (very strong-willed) partner that I should? And how would I do that? Any other ideas?

Edit to add: I bought the car before my partner and I met, so legally it's mine.

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    Part of learning to drive is about developing road craft and is anything you "share" now hers?
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 26, 2021 at 21:32
  • Is your partner against learning in the city or learning in your car? One seems to be about safety/non-accidents, and the other seems to be about ownership.
    – JonTheMon
    Dec 29, 2021 at 15:09
  • @JonTheMon I think it's both. As I stated in the edit, it's legally my car, but she worries that because of their putative lack of awareness they'll put themselves and others at risk.
    – Jim421616
    Dec 29, 2021 at 19:44

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This is your child. Got it. But maybe it is also your car, as in you paid for it, but if you acquired it while married, it's also her's. If, however, you acquired it before you got married, you can consider it yours, with sharing privileges, especially if you pay for the insurance, maintenance, etc. If that's the case, if you want to risk the conflict, it's your decision, not hers, whether you give your child driving lessons in it.

As to whether he's ready to drive yet, that's something you and your child's mother should be deciding. Maybe you can edit your question to include what she believes and what she's doing about it.

...until they have walked/biked the streets a lot more, they don't have the awareness and road skills necessary for driving.

Biking may help, but walking probably does little of real value for spatial awareness or driving skills. Driving lessons do that. Driving experience does that. Almost getting into accidents does that (being embarrassed or scared enough never to repeat a mistake is a great incentive to drive more carefully.) Getting lost does that. Spatial skills are decreasing among young people in this age of GPS systems. (A difference was even found on MRI's in areas of the brain relating to spatial transformational abilities.)

If you can't afford Driver's Ed*, maybe you can come up with a creative solution or two. It's not unreasonable to ask your son to get a part-time job to help offset the expense. Yes, you'll have to drive him to his job when he's with you (and maybe even when he's not?), but that's a good time to discuss driving safety. Maybe your ex is willing to share the cost. Maybe he has some "stuff" he could sell on ebay or whatever platform you use to sell used goods that are no longer useful or enjoyed.

Do I tell the boys that I can't teach them?

It's better to be more straightforward with your kids than to make them feel unimportant to you. "Not today, ok?" seems to imply that it's an inconvenience or it's unimportant to teach them, neither of which is totally the case. What is the risk of telling the truth? That they will dislike their step-mother? Hopefully, their opinions are based on much more than one issue, and, well, opinions that affect your actions towards them have consequences. If they challenge you on self-determination, this might be a great opportunity to explain balancing respect for people's feelings even when you disagree with them. If you simply want to avoid conflict ( "On the couple of occasions that I have given them lessons, she's admonished me...), some honest and potentially painful reflection is called for, and you can 'fess up, or you can do the right thing.

Do I try to convince my (very strong-willed) partner that I should? And how would I do that?

Yes, if you believe that you should. And you do it the same way you would with anyone whose opinion is important to you and whom you respect: present logical, fact-based arguments. Read about teen driving, get the statistics, know how to teach safety properly based on studies and guidelines, etc. Make a case for letting them drive safely and what that means.

Arguing feelings is fruitless. ("I don't feel comfortable..." is not a fact based argument. It's a feeling. So is, "I feel like I'm failing them if...") People feel what they feel, and no one has a right to tell someone else what to feel. But you can argue facts.

You're in a tough spot, but it's far from settled. Good luck!

*I could find no reliable studies on driver's safety in parent taught drivers vs. Driver's Ed, but it certainly is easier on a parent's nerves. What is known to prevent teen accidents, though, is graduated driver's licensing, where strict limits are set on new drivers - daytime only, no passengers, no radio/devices, etc. for a certin amount of time.

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Driving in a city can be stressful. There are a lot of things to consider and watch and avoid and that doesn't account for navigation.

I would suggest trying to build skills without as much risk and take it in steps. Take them to a deserted parking lot for super basics. Take them out of the city for basic road skills. Have them drive a short route that they should know by heart (to school, to church, etc). Have them drive during part of the middle of a trip.

Once they have the mechanical aspects of driving down, then you can start adding in navigation. You don't think about walking, it should be the same for driving (except more cautious). One thing to try would be to have them in the front passenger seat more often, to have a closer view of the road and get used to how routes look.

As for your partner, I would say that nothing is without risk, but driving is a useful skill to have. And by mitigating and limiting the risks during the time they are learning, it should address some of her concerns.

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Pay for driving lessons.

Over here across the Tasman in Australia, it's entirely possible to hire professional driving instructors that have cars that have been modified with a second set of pedals, to allow the instructor to hit the brakes in an emergency. I would not be at all surprised if similar services were available in New Zealand. You'd just book an appointment with them, and wait for them to show up to pick up your kid for a driving lesson at the appointed time. An hour later, your kid is back home a little bit wiser about how to drive, and you can ask the instructor for feedback on how their driving is coming along, and whether they're ready to drive with you in the family car yet.

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  • The poster does say "Driver training is generally outside my budget, so it makes sense for me to give them lessons." so I think they considered it then found out it wasn't affordable.
    – JonTheMon
    Jan 3 at 20:20
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I've given driving lessons to my grandkids in completely empty parking lots. When they first get behind the wheel, any practice helps develop their skills.

Perhaps after they can navigate a parking lot competently, you might find a little-populated street and highway to practice on.

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