Necessary Skills for New Drivers

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Below is an article featured in the 2012 MASK the Magazine

Put a brand new driver behind the wheel of a car and say to them: “make a right turn here.” What does that really mean to someone who has never been behind the wheel of a car? As drivers we assume it is “intuitive” and anybody can do it. I have been in the driver training business for nine years and I can tell you, emphatically, it is not “intuitive.” There are specific skills and an attitude of responsibility that need to be developed. The most important skill is one of judgment and decision-making. I always tell parents, the day you can sit in the seat next to your teenager behind the wheel and feel comfortable enough to read a book and not sit on the edge of your seat, is the day your teenager will be ready for their license, and not before.

We know that car crashes are the #1 killer of teenagers. Thousands of teens lose their lives or are injured in crashes on U.S. roadways each year. So, what is the cause? It is my firm belief that we do not adequately prepare teens for the responsibility of driving. We have a cavalier attitude about it in this country and we don’t place a priority on driver training or on practice driving.

What are some of the “basic skills” that need to be developed? Space management is one such skill. It is imperative for drivers to maintain a safe following distance. The risk of following too closely or tailgating is that it does not allow you enough time to perceive a potential hazard and react to it in time. The rule around the country varies from a 2 to 4 second rule to a 3 to 6 second rule, meaning as a driver you need to leave a minimum of 2 to 3 seconds between you and a vehicle in front of you. Our recommendation – the more space the better, as space will be the difference between you being involved in a crash or not. We have a demonstration on one of our simulators where a 5 mph decrease in speed is the difference between being able to avoid a vehicle that pulls out in front of you.

Speed management is a critical skill. If the speed limit is 65mph it does not mean you have a 5 to 10 variance. For us, it means you drive at 65mph and manage your speed in the right and possibly the center lane. There is absolutely no excuse for a novice driver to be doing more than the speed limit “because everybody else is doing it.” It is wrong for us to condone this behavior, because if our kids are doing 5 or 10 miles over the speed limit with us in the car, what do you think they will do when they are on their own?

Making proper lane changes is another important basic skill. In today’s day and age distractions in the vehicle are in abundance. If you make the choice to cut someone off by pulling in front of them, and they are not paying close attention to what is happening, they may not see you and may not slow their vehicle down enough to avoid hitting you.

Use of a turn signal is also an important habit to develop. It is a communication tool that gives other drivers an indication of what you are about to do. Failure to use your signal when you are going to merge or change lanes, can cause confusion and not give other drivers the information they need to avoid being in your way and potentially causing a crash. Using your turn signal eliminates half the mystery as to what might happen next. The other driver may not extend you that same courtesy, but you have improved your chances of collision avoidance by 50%.

 

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