Q&A - Teaching a Young Person to Drive

Q&A ImageI volunteer for Big Brothers / Big Sisters of Canada and have had a little brother from the time he was 5 until now when he recently celebrated 16th birthday and got his L for driving. His Mom being a single parent that works a couple jobs doesn’t have a lot of extra money for driving lessons. I thought I’d help out.

Obviously I don’t want to teach him bad habits and would like to research the available publications for how to teach. Do you have any recommendations or words of wisdom for me? Is there an approved list or method to help L drivers learn the ways of the road?

I’m thinking by helping to teach him I will get the added benefit of learning myself.

Congratulations on being such a great mentor!

Obviously, these two ICBC publications are a must read for you:

They form the basis for learning to drive in B.C.

There are lots of resources on the web, here's one that looks good from the US:

If you find something that you consider to be really helpful I'd be happy to hear about it.

For most of us, the biggest obstacles will be making sure that we teach comprehensively, correctly and that we don't pass on bad habits.

A driving instructor that I respect has suggested that you have a driving school evaluate your driving skills. This could reveal any bad habits that you have and are not aware of. He also offered to coach you, but you do not live close enough together to make that work.

Obviously I don’t want to teach him bad habits and would like to research the available publications for how to teach. Do you have any recommendations or words of wisdom for me? Is there an approved list or method to help L drivers learn the ways of the road?

I’m thinking by helping to teach him I will get the added benefit of learning myself.

It would be a great idea for every parent or person contemplating teaching a newbie to re-read the Learn to Drive Smart booklet. The 'Tuning up for Drivers' also has some good tips about the process, but many teenagers toss it into a drawer instead of asking their parents to read it, and use it as a guide.

All too often, parents will think it's an either/or situation. As in: either, I/we are going to do this or: I/we will pay for a Driving School to do it. This is nuts; nobody would expect their teenager to attend High School classes, but not bother doing homework. Neither would they expect the teenager to do so much practicing that they don't need proper instruction. The fact is, your average new driver needs about 60 hours behind the wheel in order to become reasonably accomplished. So even if the services of a 'professional' are purchased, it's typical for there to be six-to-twelve hours of lessons interspersed over a period of about a year with at least fifty hours of practice. But please realize, probably the majority of new drivers don't receive any lessons from a driving school; or they decide to schedule a lesson or two in response to failing their initial test which is really putting the cart before the horse.

In BC, a Driving School vehicle used for Class 7 training is required to have three things: a Student Driver sign on the back, a brake pedal for the Instructor, and an additional rear view mirror for the Instructor. The most useful of these is that extra mirror, and you should be able to pick one up at your local auto parts store; you'll value it highly in order to remain aware of the whole situation your Learner is in. When I used to teach teenagers, I would always set a goal of not using the dual controls available if possible, other than to temporarily take over the driving task in order to demonstrate a skill. And while that extra brake pedal may seem like a great concept, control over the driver in dealing with upcoming situations ("slow down a bit here, because of ... " or "STOP!" when things look like getting out of hand) should be all you need. If the driver doesn't respond immediately then don't waste your time trying to help them realize their goal of having a driver license. You're in charge.

Here's a thought to keep in mind. Most teachers get to stand in front of the white board at the front of the class, under no particular pressure, delivering the information they have about their subject to the class. That's easy. But driving is mostly taught in a real life, constantly changing environment; it's essential that the teacher (be it a parent or a professional) be visually and mentally aware of what's coming up next all the time.

Here's another thought. That teacher in the classroom usually just has to stuff enough information into their pupil's heads for them to pass their exams and be ready for the next semester or school year of reading, writing, arithmetic, and all that good stuff. But the teacher in the car actually has to set a goal from the very beginning, of making themselves redundant. You've achieved your task when you're superfluous, in fact, because the new driver has gotten to the point where they no longer require direction from you or anyone else.

It's important to realize that the new driver is tremendously 'task-loaded'. Just learning how to properly position the vehicle, accelerate, brake, stop, turn corners, and reverse accurately is more than enough of a challenge. So keep it simple initially. Nothing wrong with commencing in an empty parking lot (that's also an ideal area to show them the massive blind zone around them, hidden from sight by the body of their car, which should be the first thing for them to learn). Church parking lots are ideal for this, six days a week. But human beings rely on using both their targeting vision and their peripheral vision for the brain to calculate where they are on the roadway, and how quickly they're moving, so as early as possible you'll want to get them driving in a nice quiet residential neighbourhood. Minimal conflicts and stress, thus maximal ability to absorb information and learn from it.

Primary goal, once they've learned to aim well ahead (like a block) and drive in something of a straight line, is for them to learn to turn corners accurately. It cannot be stressed too much how important this is; it requires eye-to-hand coordination to control the steering, and proper application of the brake and gas pedal as necessary (most vehicles are front wheel drive, so gentle application of power actually helps to recover the steering as a turn is completed). But realize, we don't steer with our hands. We steer with our eyes; if they're not in the right place at the right time, the driver will make a mess of it. The easiest turns will be right turns into a side street, where the cross-street has the stop sign. Then get into left turns, stressing the importance of targeting on the piece of asphalt you want to complete the turn on. (How important is this? Well go stand at a busy intersection some time, and watch the next ten drivers to complete a left turn. I'll bet you that not more than two of them actually commence with looking at their intended piece of road, or even scan for pedestrians who may be in conflict; for most, where they're actually putting the car, or having a pending pedestrian conflict, is a last moment discovery because all they were looking at was the oncoming traffic. And how did this come about? BECAUSE THEY NEVER LEARNED HOW TO TURN A CORNER PROPERLY IN THE FIRST PLACE, AND THEY'RE STILL CRAP AT IT TWENTY YEARS LATER. Forgive me for shouting.)

Once you have a driver who can confidently turn corners and drive in a straight line, and only then, can they be expected to handle busier traffic situations. Because only now is the task load realistic, being as they're feeling in control of the vehicle they're driving. Keep in mind that driving - and learning - are primarily visual skills. So drawing diagrams to show what you want them to do is great. Switching seats, and actively demonstrating to them how things should be done (can be parallel parking, busy left turns, freeway merging, etc) whilst explaining where your eyes are and why you're doing what you're doing is a super idea. And remember, they deserve to succeed, so let them do so by setting realistic goals each time you go out to 'practice'. (Actually, you can't effectively practice anything unless you've been taught how to do it. Listen to me try to play the piano sometime and you'll see how true this is.)

Setting goals is essential. Believe it or don't, but most teenagers aren't all that keen on having their faults pointed out to them by their parents; but they appreciate being taught new skills! So set goals to be reached, and confirm when they've been learned. Then set further goals. And so on. Building bricks.

Hope this helps some, and good for the OP in taking on this task; you'll find it worthwhile. And do keep in mind, this here website is a superb source of information about every aspect of driving. That's why I hang out here.

Recently the owner of a driving school was talking about ABS brakes and was very critical of them. In fact going as far as saying in his opinion they were a safety hazard. His main concern was on icy roads although he felt they increased the braking distance under all conditions.

I'm curious what our moderator and other driving instructors views are on this?

Antilock brakes do extend stopping distance on snow and gravel. They reduce stopping distance in all other situations.

The added benefit is that you get to steer at the same time. It does mean extending the stopping distance if you steer as there is only so much friction available so you need to decide how to use it wisely.

It also takes a lot of the need for skill out of the equation. Stop & Steer.

No argument, if it's icy then I'd prefer 'regular' brakes, as the ABS system just won't let you lock up tires to slow the vehicle from the sliding friction. But on 'normal' wet or dry roads, if stopping right freaking now is the goal, then stomping firmly on the brake to activate the system will work better than trying to modulate your braking effort. Plus, you do have a degree of steering if you know how to steer in a subtle manner.

Thing is, few drivers ever take any vehicle control training, and have little comprehension of what's happening at the contact patch of the tire, or the difference between their inputs and the vehicle's physical behaviour. They lack an internal 'yaw sensor', I think.  Personally, I've been fortunate, in having been exposed to a lot of top notch training, whilst driving in numerous Canadian winters everywhere from BC to Ontario. Snow and ice have many varying qualities, but only some drivers ever come to understand their vehicle well enough to be 'better' than the ABS or Vehicle Stability systems built in.

So for most drivers, most of the time, their risk of collision is reduced by having these modern devices in action.

A very good driver can always drive better than the modern technology provided in modern vehicles but there are very few, very good drivers on the road.

For the vast majority ABS is the best option as most drivers will hammer on the brakes when something happens in front of them, without ABS they would have no steering and with ABS they will still have some evasive control.