One of the best things a host parent can do with a new au pair is to pay some professional driving lessons.
Driving lessons are something that you should consider in addition to having the au pair go out driving with one or more host parents, and in addition to having the au pair study driving regulations of your state. Professional driving instruction can’t substitute for host parent efforts, but it can really help.
In my town, we have a retired high school teacher who charges about $25/hr. In two-hour sessions, he will take your au pair all over town and even out onto the highway testing her/his driving skill and instructing her/him on the finer points of using a turn signal. When Gerry brings the au pair back to our house and gives her driving the thumbs up, we relax a bit– we’ve got a skilled, objective observer who has unemotionally evaluated our au pair’s driving.
Benefits of a professional driving instructor include:
- Professional driving instructors actually know all the rules of the road.
They can handle situations like rotaries where, admit it, you don’t really recall who has the right of way.
- Professional driving instructors know how to teach folks to drive.
They don’t do things like grip the dashboard and scream as your au pair drives the wrong way up an exit ramp.
- Professional driving instructors use professional instruction cars.
The kind with the extra brake pedal, and the big yellow “Get the hell out of the way Student Driver” signs.
- Professional driving instructors are not invested in your au pair relationship.
They care only about driving skill. They won’t fake it if your au pair is someone you already adore, and they won’t be mad or disappointed in your au pair if s/he takes a while to get used to American driving. Also, your au pair may be less concerned about impressing the instructor and more open to learning.
- In some areas, you can even find professional driving instructors who speak languages in addition to English.
Here in NJ you can find instructors who speak Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, and Lithuanian! Not having to translate your instructions as you shriek takes the drama down a notch for your au pair.
Our Experience with Professional Driving Instructions
We got the idea of professional driving lessons after we discovered that our third au pair’s experience was mostly driving tractors. In our former town, we called up Sears and scheduled a session with one of their instructors. Two sessions on the road later, our au pair was confident and we were confident.
The driving lessons haven’t always solved the driving skills & safety issue for us, though. When we moved from Virginia to New Jersey, the au pair whose driving was fine in a small town (even though she had a fender-bender) was simply unable to cope in the more competitive driving situation of the NYC area.
After a session with Gerry, we realized that she wasn’t going to get confident enough to drive our kids around.
We briefly considered rematch, but we had only three months to go so we held our breath until our new au pair arrived. (Does this sound familiar?) In the meantime, I bought a double jogging stroller and had her walk the girls to and from their preK (which was about a mile away from our house). The walk was long and took more energy, but it was safer.
And, since our au pair had already ruined the au pair car’s appearance with the fender bender, we let her continue to drive it for her personal use, although she rarely went further than Starbucks.
Your Au Pair Agency might help out with costs.
Later, when a neighbor’s au pair got a ticket for blowing through a stop sign on her very first day, we discovered that our au pair agency was willing in certain cases to pay for driving lessons. Apparently it was worth it for them to spend $200 on lessons to avoid the problems of rematching the au pair or returning her to her home country after only two weeks.
Although I was a little irked to discover after we’d hired our own instructors that the agency might have subsidized the driving lessons, I was glad to hear that the agency did make an effort. I suspect that this is only in severe cases, not in most cases. It might be worth a phone call to find out.
All of this has come back to mind with this query from Argus, au pair who is anxious about driving here in the USA:
HI! I’m an Au Pair in USA for 2 months now and I’m having problems. I mean, I love the host family, I LOVE the kids! and the place. Everything is perfect.
The only thing is my driving. In my country I’m a good driver, I know so. But here I’m not. I’m used to old manual cars and here I drive a new automatic car. I’m getting better used to the car. But I still can’t get it right. I know is partly the place. Laws are different, miles and kilometers.. the signs are reeeally different.
And I’m nervous!! Really nervous!! I usually drive with my host mom or host dad, and that makes me more nervous. But I can’t say that to my host parents because it would sound like excuses. It is the true. Im practicing and doing my best… but doesn’t seem enough. I heard from an Au Pair that she left her host family because they weren’t comfortable with her driving. I’m scared. I don’t want to leave this family!!
Argus’s family, if you read AuPairMom, will you consider spending $98 to keep this au pair confident and safe on the road?