Preparing teens for the responsibility of driving is multi-tiered and highway driving is just one of the many skills that need to be developed. Parents need to think long and hard about what is in the best interest of their child as they embark on this process. The first step is to recognize that it is a process, not an event, just as every child learns differently when it comes to subjects in school, it is no different when they are learning how to drive. Their is a progression of skills and an attitude that must be developed to instill a sense of responsibility in a young driver.
It begins with acclimation to a vehicle, developing basic fundamental skills such as hand and foot control, steering and vehicle control, making right and left turns, lane management and then progresses to the ability to interact with traffic, lane changes and making quick decisions. The most difficult driving is busy surface streets as there are many more possibilities for hazards to pop up. For example, pedestrians, cyclists, traffic signs and lights, other vehicles making right and left turns, distracted drivers, red light runners, intersections, the list can go on.
When is a student ready for the highway? If you think about it, getting onto a freeway or highway is a lane change at a faster speed. If a student knows how to make a solid lane change, then they are ready to tackle a freeway. The most important skills for freeway driving are lane changes, and managing speed and space. The more space a driver has between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them, the better their ability to avoid a collision. Teach your student to leave a 4 to 6 second space. They can determine that space by watching the vehicle in front of them pass a stationary object such as a sign, tree, or post. Once that vehicle passes the object they count 1, 1000, 2, 1000, 3, 1000 until they reach the object. That will give them a good indication of the amount of space they have and they can adjust to leave themselves the maximum amount of space. When they have a 4 to 6 second space cushion it significantly increases their ability to react to changing circumstances such as weather, debris on the freeway, or other events. Novice drivers should also spend their time in the right lane, managing their space and their speed. It teaches them to interact with traffic coming onto the freeway and makes it easier for them to maintain the speed limit. They have no business staying in the left lane which is considered the passing lane. It is never a good idea to “teach” a student that going over the speed limit is acceptable because everybody else does it. They are novice drivers and we need to instill respect for the laws, that means maintaining the speed limit in the right or center lanes of a highway.