When people think about driver’s ed or learning to drive they think about it in terms of a class to be completed and a test to take. There is ample reason for people to have that belief because driver education typically is conducted in a classroom and includes only limited driving time with a driving instructor. That model originated in the 1950s and to a large extent is the same basic model used today in many high schools and private schools. While classroom instruction and behind-the-wheel experience are part of the process, they often are just part of a short checklist needed to obtain a license.
However, every learner is different and the process of learning how to drive is complex. There is far more to being a safe driver than handling a vehicle. If you consider the evaluation that is conducted at most motor vehicle departments throughout the United States there is a great deal of emphasis placed on the ability to park the vehicle. Most evaluations do not include driving in heavy traffic on major surface streets and certainly not on highways. Often only right turns are made either in the parking lot or around the block from the motor vehicle department’s office. There is no evaluation of the novice driver’s ability to observe, plan and execute or to make quick decisions and judgments. These are the skills that require significant time and effort to develop and there are many factors to be considered.
According to research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety 16 to 17-year-old drivers are nine times more likely to be involved in a crash than adults and six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash. Thousands of teenagers die on U.S. roadways each year and hundreds of thousands are injured. According to the research, most teen driver crashes are due to three critical errors:
- Lack of scanning – Novice drivers often have limited awareness beyond what is directly in front of them.
- Excessive speed for the road conditions, and
- Being distracted by something inside or outside of the vehicle.
Most newly licensed teen drivers complete their learner’s permit phase with very little knowledge, minimal experience, and insufficient skills, which leads to a much higher risk of crashes as compared to drivers with more experience. The most common types of collisions for novice drivers involve left turn collisions where they are T-boned or hit head-on, rear-ending other vehicles, or running off of the road.
Following are some tips for working on the three areas that cause the most collisions.
Working with novice drivers on scanning is critical. Don’t let them rely on their peripheral vision as they cross intersections. They must turn their heads – left, center, right, and left again to properly scan an intersection. It is also important to ensure they are not just turning their head because someone told them to, they need to know what they are looking for as they move their head.
Making a left turn on a busy surface street is a dangerous maneuver primarily because we are crossing the path of oncoming traffic. A novice driver needs to develop the capacity to judge time and space to ensure that they can execute the turn safely. They must be able to clearly see a football field length down the road and if their view is obstructed, they must wait until they are 100% sure they can make the turn safely.
Managing the space directly in front of them and around them is a necessary skill that will help them avoid rear-ending other vehicles. Many drivers maintain less than a second between themselves and the vehicle in front of them. A smart driver will leave a minimum of 3 seconds and up to 6 seconds so that if something happens, they have the time and space to maneuver and avoid a collision.
At DrivingMBA we KNOW the critically important role that parents play in this process. Students simply cannot develop the necessary proficiency behind the wheel if they don’t practice what they’re learning. Driving, like any other skill, requires practice and we recommend that they get significant experience in all types of driving situations. Going back and forth to the same location every time they are in the vehicle will not allow them to develop the necessary skills. They must be able to drive in all types of circumstances before becoming a licensed driver.
Leaving it to chance and “they’ll figure it out on their own” does not serve our children well. In 2020, a total of 2,738 teenagers ages 13-19 died in motor vehicle crashes. This is 69 percent fewer than in 1975 but 14 percent more than in 2019.
It always baffles me when parents say they are scared to death to go out with their teenager, and yet their teenager has a license or they want them to hurry up and get their license. I implore parents not to place a timeframe on when a student will get their license and certainly to not put a lot of emphasis on the teen’s 16th birthday. Your teenager may or may not be ready to be a solo driver when they turn 16 and that is OK!
It is so much more important that they are as well prepared as possible with experience in all types of traffic situations and lots of practice hours. Remember this is one of the last life skills that we impart to our children before they begin to experience young adulthood and freedom. Enjoy the process. They will have a lifetime to drive if they prepare well at the beginning.