I have not one but two teenage daughters learning how to drive, so forgive me if I consider myself something of an expert in common young driver errors. If it’s capable of turning my hair white, they’ve done it — more than once. It’s kind of amazing there isn’t more mayhem on the highways, considering how many learner’s permits we issue every year.
I’m not just piling on the kids, since we all do these things, even 30-year road warriors. So don’t consider these problems exclusive to teenagers. Here are a few of the pointers I impart to my daughters, often at the top of my voice while gesticulating wildly. Actually, they’re coming along nicely — we’re past most of this:
Distracted driving: That’s the number one problem today, and it’s not just teenagers, and it’s not just texting and talking on smart phones. Actually, student drivers are less guilty of this than most of the rest of us, because they’re somewhat focused by the novelty of it all. For the rest of us, driving is boring and we get distracted. Driving fatalities are up for teens past the learning stage, and distracted driving is a big reason. The infotainment systems on new cars are overly complicated and involving, even when they add voice commands. My kingdom for a volume control knob! And we also get distracted by conversations with passengers, by the object we just dropped in the gap between the two front seats, and by things we see around us. What I try to emphasize to my young drivers is the need to pay full attention, all the time. Highways are minefields of potential trouble, and only with vigilance will you avoid them.
Following too closely: Teenagers are immortal and indestructible, everyone knows that, and haven’t learned the frailty of man and machine. They drive like their brakes will always work, and the car ahead will never stop short or decide at the last moment to make a turn. Yes, they have fast reflexes (faster than mine, anyway) but they aren’t an anti-virus against things that other drivers do. Drive defensively at all times, I tell them.
Changing lanes without looking: This is a tough one to teach, because your students don’t necessarily understand the reason for it. There’s nothing ahead, so why worry about the traffic in your wake? I think at this point they check the mirrors and signal not because they think it makes sense, but because they know I’ll have a fit if they don’t. Getting kids to use mirrors, especially to check all three of them, takes a while.
Sweeping turns: The modus operandi here is to go into the turn without slowing down, then hit the brakes if any object, person or vehicle has the temerity to be in the way. Instead, can the default tactic be slowing down, then powering into the turn after a clear view yields no obstacles ahead?
Speeding: I know it's obvious, but it accounts for 40 percent of all teen fatalities, DMV.org warns. Young drivers, in my experience, don't always speed--sometimes they drive too slowly. The general issue is not driving appropriately for conditions, which is aggravated by a general failure to notice speed limit signs and other posted traffic information.
The wanderer: Those painted lines are just suggestions, right? Actually, no, it’s kind of important to stay in your lane, as demonstrated by a succession of clipped curbs, redesigned snowbanks and narrowly missed obstacles.
Also on the short list: Cutting across lanes of traffic to reach a turnoff, blowing through stop signs (or stopping on the crosswalk), failure to realize the lurking dangers in supermarket parking lots, neglecting to turn on the headlights, and blaring teen hits radio. Actually, the last one isn’t necessarily dangerous to them, just to me.
And for any wanna-be teen drivers who might be reading this, here are some cogent video tips on passing the all-important road test at the DMV:
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