Recently I completed the final steps for teaching my youngest to drive. As much as I’d like to say it was easy, it wasn’t and in the end the most important lessons can be summed into these five rules.
Setting the Stage
To start things off correctly you have to increase their ability to pay attention. One way to improve your attention is to put yourself in the best position for maximum field of view while at the same time protecting yourself from the airbag. The airbag deployment is violent. Getting the driver’s seat adjust so you have the right standoff while at the same time good field of view is not that difficult. I have them contact the head rest then adjust the seat until their wrist rest on the top of the steering wheel. This standoff allows optimal access to all controls. In addition, I taught them not to wrap their thumbs around the wheel. Aside from the good ole 10:00 & 2:00 hand position for control there is the airbag deployment to consider. Keeping your thumbs on the outside of the steering wheel not only allows for shuffle steering, but reduce potential injury from impact and air bag deployment.
Rule One; Stay Calm
Stay in an emotionally neutral state. The best way to accomplish this state is to leave early. I encourage them to leave at least 10 minutes early since this will keep them in a calmer state. A state they can make better decisions and remain detached from the rest of the crazy. Avoiding distractions would be the next most important tactic. Everything from the obvious such as mobile phones to playing with the stereo. I taught zone defense. meaning have a system for taking both the near and far zones into account.
Rule Two; Never Stop Driving
Once on the road, keep your zone defense appropriate to your speed and vision. Part of this includes never stop driving the vehicle. People don’t loose control of their vehicles, they give it up. Even if things look bad, you can apply changes to your situation through your controls; steering, brakes and acceleration. Add inclement weather or hazardous driving conditions and this becomes even more important. Don’t let the stress of the situation make things worse by giving up. You may not be able to avoid a crash, but you might be able to reduce the damage. Remember, these tips. Avoid hitting a stationary object. If unavoidable, avoid hitting a stationary object head on.
Rule Three; Look Where You Want to Go
I can vividly remember looking right at the guard rail. I was looking at the exact spot I ended up hitting. Look where you want the vehicle to go and use the controls to get it there. I know it seems simple when in truth there is a lot of complexity, but even the minimal inputs can have major positive results. When making corrections it may seem logical to make big ones, but it all depends on your speed. I watched as one of my younglings over corrected on a turn and ended up fish-tailing. Yep, one of those heart stopping moments, but no one was hurt or damage to the vehicle. It was a great teaching opportunity. As a new driver it is hard to manage all the controls, but looking where you want the vehicle to go greatly improves the chances of you getting there.
Rule Four; Look for Drive-able Terrain
In the above scenario not only did I have the opportunity to teach to look where you want the vehicle to go, but also to look for drive-able terrain. Yes, driving on the median, shoulder or in extremis situations the sidewalk are less than optimal. However, if you review the tips about hitting objects this can be the lesser of two evils. Drive-able terrain is not limited to when you are driving, but when stationary such as a stop light. Keeping a good distance between you and the vehicle in front of you while moving is commonly taught. Depending on the speed when moving it dictates the minimum safe distance, but stationary is much easier. As long as you can see the tire patch of the vehicle in front of you, it gives you the maneuverability to get moving. Instead of being stuck behind a disabled vehicle at a light you can now maneuver around it with little fan fair. If you hear the screeching tires behind you, there may be time to accelerate out of the path or minimize the impact.
Rule Five, Keep the Wheels Turning
The moment you lock up the tires you loose access to your greatest assets; the controls. If the tires are locked or you are skidding it is difficult to use the controls. Inputting changes to the controls such as steering, braking or even accelerating can be the difference between a glancing blow and a head on accident. If the wheels are locked, you are more along for the ride. To take it a step further, keep the wheels turning straight. If the momentum of the vehicle is one direction, but your tires are aimed in a different direction it can set you up for a terrible scenario such as a roll over. I watched first hand as my best friend rolled while we were working on the track one day. As we ran through scenarios he played the bad guy. On a particularly sharp turn I watched him drive off the road. If not for being an amazing driver the outcome would have been much worse. Fortunately, he was able to minimize the damage by getting the wheels turned straight at the last minute.
Yep, my last one is going to be officially on the road soon. This rite of passage is scary for me, but I’m comforted knowing I did the best job possible.