Useful drivers ed lessons for parents teaching teens to drive
With most of the country on mandatory social distancing and with schools closed, many parents now find themselves responsible for teaching their teens how to drive. That process can be frightening and even dangerous, and most people lack the training to teach others how to drive. To help smooth that process, Bill Wade, National Program Director of Tire Rack Street Survival training, offers some suggestions. Street Survival is the acclaimed national driver training program that teaches teens to manage unexpected dangerous driving situations.
Get comfortable behind the wheel
Your teen must be able to use all the controls, including the steering wheel, pedals, and mirrors comfortably and effectively without having to change position. They should adjust the seat to a comfortable angle, then raise their arm up without moving their shoulder away from the seat and drop their arm on top of the steering wheel. Now adjust the seat forward or backward so the steering wheel is at the joint between their wrist and arm while the arm is straight. This will give your driver the appropriate bend in their arm.
With the car running and in Park, have your teen place ball of their foot on the brake pedal and push it as far down as possible. Have them adjust the position of their seat in relation to the pedals so they can do this without completely straightening their knee, because there should always be a slight bend in the knee. This allows a little more travel for when the car goes into ABS mode under panic braking and allows the driver's foot to be in the most stable position. The driver should never have to operate the brake pedal with just the tip toe of their shoe. The foot should also be firmly planted on the pedal and not slip off.
The seat should be at a height that allows the driver their best field of vision out the windows and through the mirrors without having to adjust the seating position while in motion.
Teach proper hand positioning
Looking at the steering wheel like a clock, the correct hand position is at 9 and 3 o'clock. This gives the maximum ability to turn the wheel without having interference in the arms or having to cross over too often. The driver should always have two hands on the wheel. To make the car turn the driver should be pulling down on the steering wheel not pushing up.
The reason to do it this way is anatomical. Humans have small muscle groups in the forearm and big muscle groups in the upper arms and shoulders. People have much more control over the smaller muscle groups than the larger ones. Pulling down on the steering wheel uses the smaller muscles, rather than pushing up using the big ones. This is especially important in a panic situation. If you pull down steering wheel you have a better chance to get the correct steering input, if you push up you might get too much input and send the car out of control.
Always teach seatbelt safety
Your teen driver needs to wear their seatbelt every time they get in the car — no exceptions. However, they also need to wear it properly. The lap belt part of the seat belt needs to be kept low on the hips and not riding high on the stomach where it can do damage to internal organs in an accident. The shoulder belt cannot be left loose. If the belts are loose or put outside of bulky clothing, it will take additional time for the belt to fully tighten in case of an accident.
Learn how to create proper mirror positioning
Getting the mirrors into the correct position is extremely important to eliminate blind spots. Most people falsely believe that their car has a blind spot when, in reality, they have mis-aligned mirrors. If your teen can see the side of their car when they are in the driving position, their mirrors are improperly aligned, creating a blind spot, typically on the left side of the car.
To properly position the mirrors, have your teen set the seat in its proper position and then lean their head to the left so that they hit the window glass with their temple. Have your teen adjust the mirror so that they can then see just a sliver of the side of the car. Sitting back up normally, have them lean parallel to the dashboard to the right so that their forehead is positioned in the center of the car approximately equal to the rear-view mirror. Have them adjust the mirror so that they can see a sliver of the side of the car on the right side. This will 'flatten' the angle of the mirrors making them slightly more perpendicular to the sides of the car and increase the cone of reflection behind the car greatly. The rear-view mirror should always be center to look out the back window equally on each side.
Unlike the way most of us were taught to drive, your teen should never look over their shoulder while driving. Our hands follow our eyes and if the driver looks over their shoulder to change lanes, they tend to move the wheel to that side. With the proper mirror position there is no reason to look over your shoulder because there is no blind spot. To positively reaffirm that it is safe to change lanes, teach your driver to simply lean forward while looking in the mirror. This action changes the angle of reflection and will provide reassurance.
Make adjustments in Park
Teach your teen to make adjustments that distract from the road prior to putting the car into motion. Seat positioning and mirror alignments should be corrected while the car is in park.
Also teach your teen to secure their phone away — placing it on "Do Not Disturb" or turning it off — as to ensure they have no temptation to check a text or answer a call while driving. Music adjustments such as volume, station or playlist should also be made prior to putting the car in motion.
At highway speeds, a car travels the length of a high school basketball court every second and the length of a football field every 5 seconds. Remember, our hands follow our eyes. Looking at the dash to change the radio station means your teen is driving blind for the duration it takes to change the channel.
Behind-the-wheel driving exercises
1. 10-second rule exercise
Inexperienced drivers typically fail to look far enough ahead and stare too close to the end of their hood. Using the "10-second rule" exercise, you can teach them how to understand proper eyesight while driving.
Have your teen identify a stationary object down the road where they think they should be looking at that moment on the road. Start counting "One-thousand-one, one thousand-two" till you get to "one-thousand-ten." If you get to that marker before you hit 10 seconds, they are not looking far enough down the road.
This uses the theory of "soft vision" allowing your brain to take in much more visual information and letting it sort out what's important. Once they are comfortable driving on limited access highways or Interstates it is almost impossible to be looking too far down the road.
2. Following distance exercise
Following distance to the vehicle in front of you is critical in safe driving. The vast majority of teen drivers' first incidents are from rear ending a vehicle or hitting an object in front of them because they don't understand the effort it takes to stop their vehicle fully and quickly.
Both the size of the vehicle and the speed it is traveling influence stopping distance. The bigger the vehicle the more time and distance it takes to stop, and the faster a vehicle is traveling the more time and distance it takes to stop. A small compact car going 40 miles an hour will stop in a much shorter distance than a big SUV going the same 40 mph. This is physics and has nothing to do with if a car has ABS brakes or is newer or more expensive. The distance in between the vehicles should be at least 3 seconds at anything over 35 mph. Anything less three seconds and they are following too close.
3. Nighttime driving
Driving at night is much different that during day light hours. Your teen should greatly reduce their speed in areas that aren't lit.
4. Variable speed driving
Your teen should practice driving at different speeds, and their speeds should be increasing when practicing driving. When they can comfortably manage slower speeds (such as 30-45 mph) without causing issues with other drivers on the road, they are ready for freeways and speeds between 55-65 mph. This should be attempted at non-peak traffic times and during the daylight hours at first, on early weekend mornings for example. Discuss how to merge and get into the flow of traffic prior to the entrance ramp. Have them practices at short distances first to build confidence before extending to longer distances.
Remember that part of learning to increase speed also includes understanding slowing down when exiting the freeway.
5. Wildlife and other factors
Remind your teen that they should be on high alert for factors other than vehicles that will impact their driving ability such as wildlife or debris. Especially when driving in unfamiliar areas, teach them to watch for wildlife that might be crossing the road.
With a little practice and patience, you can teach your teen the latest in safe driving techniques. When gatherings are allowed again, check back here at Wheels for information about upcoming Street Survival schools happening in Portland.
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