Bad Drivers are Taught, not Born That Way: NMA E-Newsletter #472

From NMA member Bob O’Connor

“Johnny will get better as he drives more”, said the mother of a 16-year-old who was beginning to learn how to drive. This statement of course is not necessarily true because it depends on your definition of “better.” It also depends even more on how he was instructed to drive. Did the instructor know more than how to operate the vehicle, and was that “more” taught?

In the United States, a 16-year-old driver-in-training must complete X amount of classroom/instruction and then must drive with mommy or daddy for X amount of hours before a license is issued (or something close to that). What is the end result though, when mommy or daddy, who knows how to “operate a vehicle” but does not know how to actually “drive a vehicle,” is the instructor?

For example, if Johnny was never instructed in the correct way to use turn signals or even how to properly adjust the side mirrors (if you can see the car behind you in all three mirrors, your mirrors are adjusted incorrectly), why would just driving longer have him gain that knowledge? Turn signals are meant to communicate to other drivers your intention, not what you’re currently doing, which is exactly what happens when you engage your turn signal mid-turn and probably after you have hit the brakes. Unfortunately, having non-pros like most parents teach their children the skill of driving can perpetuate all kinds of bad generational habits.

In Germany, if you want to learn how to drive, you attend a professional driving school and it takes upwards of six months with both classroom and practical driving lessons. No parents in sight. And Germans are known to be some of the best and most courteous drivers in the world.

Many of us think of ourselves as excellent drivers because “Well, I’ve never had an accident, therefore, I must be an excellent driverI should be able to teach my kid how to drive.”

But some of these excellent drivers might easily find themselves in a road rage incident and have no idea why. Perhaps because he or she was unaware of proper left lane usage, knew nothing about signaling a lane change, or always rides the brake pedal, etc. If you have been in one or more road rage incidents, maybe you’re the unwitting instigator. This was learned behavior.

Should parents really be teaching their kids how to drive?

Our state governments say yes and since this is the norm and not the exception, here are some thoughts on important topics that parents should prepare when teaching their teen children how to drive.

·         How to start, stop, turn, park, back out of the driveway, merge on a highway ramp, understanding stoplight etiquette and how to avoid driving distractions.

·         Using cruise control and other car technology while keeping your eyes on the road.

·         How to become situationally aware. You don’t tempt fate by walking on thin ice because the dangers are apparent. The same idea goes for driving.

·         Understanding the capabilities of your car. Drive within the envelope of the vehicle. Learning the when, where and how of braking and acceleration on different surfaces. Don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation—anticipate and adjust accordingly.

·         Understanding how different tires handle in certain weather conditions. Counteracting hydroplaning and general skidding. Understanding how anti-lock brakes and traction control work.

·         How to safely correct your car after dropping a tire off the road surface and how to prevent the far too-common problem of steering overcorrection that often leads to rollovers.

·         How to practice left lane courtesy and the proper way of when and how to pass. Communicating to other drivers your “intentions”, not what you’re doing. Use turn signals before brake lights.

·         Making sure you are visible to others, e.g., don’t drive in their blind spots for more than a few seconds. Teach about blind spots, where they’re located and how to avoid them.

·         How to change a tire. THIS SHOULD BE MANDATORY

·         How to anticipate, is perhaps the most important lesson of all. Don’t wait for things to happen and then react. Watch the traffic in front of the car in front of you, brake lights, cars changing lanes, etc. Change lanes to avoid a bottleneck.

Teaching someone to drive is not easy. After 60 years of driving, I would like to offer two concepts that if taught and followed would make everybody a better driver.

1.    Anticipate other drivers and road conditions.

2.    Don’t impede other drivers.

Just some thoughts from a guy who has seen just about every type of situation and every type of driver on the road.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the author.

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