[Guest post by instructor and car captain Eva Flores! We'll be running a series of posts by her, getting her insights into everything related to driving lessons. In this post, she talks through a common problem for new drivers: being nervous about getting behind the wheel, and provides tips to overcome a fear of driving.]
When I took my drive test many, many years ago, I was confident I’d ace it. I got a 96. Close, right? The drive test examiner said I accelerated DURING the climb of the hill instead of BEFORE the climb. It wasn’t even a big hill. One minor error = 4-points off of my drive exam score. I should point out not every infraction will equate to a 4-point drop in drive score. Parents, if you are from my generation then you remember having to practice, and practice, and practice parallel parking and 3-point turns. Luckily, for this generation of SMART drivers, it is no longer a requirement during the drive test. (Whew, sigh of relief.) However, I must note, that at some point in your driving career, every driver will have to parallel park their vehicle. If you have a self-parking vehicle, awesome! I wonder how well it would perform parallel parking on a San Francisco hill? For the rest of us, parallel parking is actually pretty fun…after the second or third time. It’s all about the angles.
So, if parallel parking and 3-point turns aren’t required, what is?
I’d like to note that since these two drive skills are no longer required, the techniques and skills left to perform at a satisfactory level should be on point. No sugar-coating. You must demonstrate the following maneuvers during your behind-the-wheel examination:
- Pre-Drive Checklist: demonstrate emergency parking brake, arm signals, windshield wipers, defroster, emergency flashers, headlights, turn signals, headlights, foot brake, horn
- Parking Lot Driving: Leaving and Returning to the DMV
- Intersections: Up to eight total, including speed, yields, traffic checks, braking, and limit lines
- Business/Residential/Rural Driving: traffic checks, speed, spacing, lane position, etc.
- Entering/Backing Along Curb
- Lane Changes
- Turns: Up to four lefts and rights, including signals, full stops, limit lines, steering control, speed, turning too wide or too short, turning into the correct lane, etc.
Why do students not pass their driving test the first time?
I say this to all my students, make sure to SMOG!
I can’t stress enough how important and critical it is to look over your shoulder for turns. Yes, even for left turns. There could be a bicyclist/motorcyclist right behind you and you might not know it. Always make sure to clear your blind spots for turns and lane changes.
I took an adult student to the DMV for her drive test the other day. (One of the many services we offer at DriversEd.com!) We went over the evaluation form and drove around the area for a bit of practice and reassurance before the drive test. She assured me she wasn’t too nervous and would remember all the techniques we went over. I watched her drive away. Ten minutes later, she pulled back into the DMV. The drive test examiner informed me that she did not pass. According to the examiner, the reasons why she and other students fail the first time are:
- Nerves: Try not to let your nerves get a hold of you. Try to relax, be confident, and just let all the skills and techniques you’ve learned shine through
- Wide Turns: on a right turn on a 2-lane road, you should end up in the right lane, not the left. Students oftentimes make wide turns, then try and correct themselves by getting in the correct lane without signaling or looking over their shoulder, which results in an automatic fail
- Bike Lanes: Whether the bike lane is dashed or solid, signal 200 ft. in advance, SMOG, and put your tires into the bike lane before making a right turn
Real talk, tips and feedback from former students on how to pass your driving test the first time
- “My friend failed for running a yellow light because it turned red while crossing the intersection.”
- “Over-exaggerate your head turns for lane changes”
- “I failed because I didn’t get into the bike lane and didn’t look over my shoulder.”
- “If you’re female, wear your hair in a ponytail and wear hoop earrings.”
- “Just make sure to look over your shoulders even if you feel it’s not necessary & when driving on side streets keep scanning the road like shoulder to shoulder.”
- “Look on YouTube for DMV drive test routes”
Avoid These Bad Habits to Pass Your Driving Test the First Time
Sometimes students pick up bad habits, especially if there has been a huge gap from the date of the last lesson to the days prior to the drive test. Habits range from driving with one hand, to taking your hands off the steering wheel. Keep hands at 9-3, drive with palms down, and demonstrate hand-over-hand turns. The other night, I had a student tell me that while she was practicing driving with her dad and SMOG-ing, he said, “You know, you don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder.” She said, “OH, YES I DO!!!”
If you want to pass the drive test the first time, remember: It’s all in the details:
- Stop ahead of limit lines
- Traffic Check: Look shoulder to shoulder, use your mirrors
- Stay committed to your lane and follow it through for turns
- Watch your speed
- Keep adequate space cushions
- Make complete stops: no California rolls
I always advise my students to check out the CA DMV YouTube Channel for helpful tips and information on preparing for the drive test. You can also find us on YouTube for more resources and tips on how to become a SMART, safe and defensive driver.
I’m having another one of those moments…one where I can’t believe I’ve reached this point in Jeffrey’s life. He turned fifteen in February and it is time to lay the foundation of learning how to drive! Both fear and excitement grip me as I realize how quickly we’ve reached this milestone. A blink in time. I am pleased with the realization that soon he will be able to drive himself to some of his own events, which will give me some more time in my own schedule. I am secretly planning and protecting this new-found gift so it won’t be taken up with another commitment and washed away by the crazy pace of my life.
As for his driving, I believe he will be a good driver. He tends to be thoughtful and is not a kid who takes quick jumps into things. I hope these characteristics carry over into his driving. I am definitely talking more about driving with him. It is interesting how I am more conscious about what I am doing on the road when my kid is shooting questions at me about driving. I am also being very aware of my phone habits while I’m in the car. The continual pressure of getting it all done and setting a good example with the phone is a continual battle for me. I try not to let the pressure of time allow me to make bad choices about safety.
As he begins his DriversEd.com online course, he questions all the rules of the road and even tends to critique my driving. Did I stop early enough? Was it a smooth stop? Did you just roll through that stop sign? (Of course not!) I take a deep breath and try to remember if I took my menopause supplement. Then I slow down and think about how important it is to lead by example, with life and with driving. I begin to make a list in my head of all the support that I need to put in place for his journey. Who will help me in teaching him, setting the example and laying the foundation? Thank you DriversEd.com! Making a plan, setting goals and tracking them always calms me down and this is no exception. I add to my spreadsheet a column where I list all the good things having a second driver in the house will bring. This column is for me, for when I find myself short on patience. It reminds me how I felt when I sent him off to school. It really is sending your heart into the world…only this time it’s on wheels.
[Thanks to guest writer Martha Martinez.]
College is a drastically different experience than high school. When I think about what my life was like just a couple of years ago, I remember the obvious milestones first: big races that I won, Prom, taking the SAT, and learning to drive. That last accomplishment, getting my drivers license, was huge, because it led to so many other memorable adventures in the San Francisco Bay Area. But when I think about it, driving wasn’t only important for the occasional weekend excursion…it was an integral part of my daily life, both before and after I was the one behind the wheel.
I was in more carpools than I could count on both hands. Each year, I rode with different groggy-eyed kids on our foggy morning commute to school. As a freshman, I sat squished in the middle seat every day, trying to stay hip to the conversations of the senior boys in the carpool. The driver, Nate, always had cool alternative music playing, and sometimes I would try to impress him when I knew the band. Then, one morning, he completely inverted my impression of his musical taste when he played a Taylor Swift album for the entire ride. At first I thought it was a joke. No one said a word.
Carpools can also make for unexpected friendships. For three years, I roughed it to rowing practice with the one teammate who attended the same high school as I did. Not the most natural of friends (we both had strong personalities), it sometimes felt as if we were siblings crammed into a family car for a long road trip. Nevertheless, through the evolution of our moms’ towing us to practice to us driving ourselves, we both grew up just a little bit during each day’s twenty-five-minute commute. Our sometimes-contrasting points of view made for reliably lively conversation.
Once I could drive myself, I also learned how driving alone can serve not just as transportation, but also as a contemplative, even meditative, break from my schedule. My evening drive home became my time to let the events of the day settle into memories, and let my teenage anxieties fly out the window. Some nights, it came through fearlessly singing Taylor Swift songs (I eventually came around to her pop). Another night when I was 16, I took the scenic route to console myself right after a tragic high school breakup (after I had calmed down, because I did know not to drive while extremely emotional).
We use the word “driving” in its verb form—it’s just an action that we do to go from one place to another. We divide up our lives among our different Points, Point A and Point B and so on—spending eight hours here, five hours there. What about the time that accumulates in transitions, during these daily little segments on the road?
Only in retrospect do I appreciate the time I spent driving in high school, and I think it’s okay that some moments only reveal their value in hindsight. My point here is not that you must constantly feel pressure to “stop and smell the roses” while you are driving in the car. Certainly, there is beauty to be found in the mundane and memories to be made within daily routines. But my argument is much simpler: don’t always think of your time spent in the car as wasted time getting from Point A to Point B. Think of it as another small, yet important chunk of what makes your day unique.
As the parent of a child approaching the age at which they can learn to drive, there is certain to be one question that keeps coming to mind: “Is my teenager ready to drive?”
It’s a good question. Learning to drive is a big step and not one to be taken lightly. Driving requires responsibility, maturity and a willingness to obey driving rules. Yet, driving brings with it independence and a degree of freedom for your child. And it might even put an end to the days of mom or dad’s taxi!
Ask yourself the following questions to help determine whether your teen is or is not ready to drive.
Is my teen old enough to learn to drive?
The age at which your child can legally begin drivers education varies between states. You can check state requirements for learning to drive by checking the FAQ page for the state-specific online driver education course from DriversEd.com, and look for a question like “How do I earn my drivers license?”.
In addition to the state requirements, you might want to think about how your teen feels about learning to drive. Has he or she demonstrated an interest in driving for some time, and shown a willingness to learn from your actions? We know that children observe their parents as they drive and subconsciously learn from their behavior. But, if you have actively engaged with your child while driving and explained your actions to them, you may find they have already learnt a lot about safe driving and feel more prepared for learning to drive. (You can read more about this in our blog article: What’s the Best Age to Start Teaching My Teen to Drive.)
Is my teen mature enough to learn to drive?
Driving safely involves much more than passing a road test. It requires all drivers to follow rules, assess risks, make safe decisions and respond accordingly. Of course, a professional driving instructor will help your teen develop safe driving skills during in-car driving lessons, but it can be useful to consider your teen’s level of maturity before learning to drive. As their parent, you’re in a great position to assess your teen’s maturity. Think about the level of maturity displayed by your teen in other areas of life, such as attitude to schoolwork, choice of friends, ability to follow rules, etc.
Is my teen willing to take advice about learning to drive?
Consider your teen’s relationship with teachers and other adults. This can be a good indication of how they will respond to a professional driving instructor. At DriversEd.com, all our driving instructors have years of experience of teaching teenagers how to drive and are highly skilled at communicating effectively with teens. Even so, the more your teen is willing to take advice, the more an instructor can teach them during driving lessons about becoming a safe, SMART, confident driver.
Is my teen ready to concentrate on the road?
Roads are busy. Not only with drivers, but with all kinds of other road users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and buses, as well as other teenagers taking driving lessons! Driving safely requires concentration and focus at all times. Think about whether your teen would be able to resist using his/her cell phone while driving, to avoid getting into deep conversations with passengers and to refrain from activities such as eating and drinking while at the wheel.
Is my teen able to remain alert for driving?
The driving environment is one that changes frequently. And it can change in an instant. Being alert helps drivers identify potential hazards and react appropriately as quickly and as safely as possible. If your teen stays up all night playing computer games or wanders around the house yawning, it might be a good idea to encourage your teen to establish a regular sleep routine before learning to drive.
Does my teen have time for learning to drive?
Learning to become a safe, SMART driver doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s worth thinking about what else your teen has going on in their life before they learn to drive. School, work, volunteering, social commitments: these all take up time and adding something else into the mix can be a pressure for some teens. On the flip side, learning to drive can ultimately enable your teen to better juggle such commitments: once they are on the road, they can drive themselves to work, school and wherever else they need to go without relying on other people for lifts or on public transport. When considering driving schools, you might want to consider one that offers flexible online drivers education, so your teen can learn to drive on any device, at a pace that suits them.
Are you ready to help your teen with learning to drive?
State requirements vary, but most require a combination of one or more of the following: online drivers education, in-car driving lessons and a minimum period of parent supervised driving practice.
The parent-supervised driving practice stage forms an important part of learning to drive. It helps your teen gain driving experience in all kinds of driving conditions, and the more you do, the best shot your teenager has of becoming a safe, SMART driver for life.
You can help make the parent-supervised practice period more effective by refreshing your own knowledge, thinking of ways to help your teen relax while learning to drive and using the three-step teaching technique: Explain, Demonstrate, Practice/Coach. For a more detailed guide of what to do during the parent-supervised practice stage of learning to drive, check out a few of our resources, and keep your eyes on this space for more:
- Lead by example: A parent’s guide to modeling good driving behavior
- Let’s Go Practice Driving—in a Parking Lot!
- What’s on the Road Test?
In addition to supervised practice, your teen will also need your support while taking in-car driving lessons and/or online drivers education. While they certainly won’t want an interrogation after each one of their driving lessons, your teen will benefit greatly from your emotional support, your interest in how they are doing and your willingness to help them find out the answers to any questions they might have about learning to drive.
We’re here to help both you and your teen
At DriversEd.com, we know learning to drive is a major milestone for both you and your teenager. That’s why we provide 24/7 customer support for both you and your teen, valuable driving resources, unlimited free practice tests and useful articles for both parents and teens about learning to drive and all kinds of safe driving topics.
And, when your teen starts in-car driving lessons with us, our professional driving instructors will make the effort to have a chat with you, the parent, before and after every one of your teen’s driving lessons. Our driving instructors will also provide online feedback for each driving lesson so you can keep track of your teen’s progress throughout their journey.
We hope this article has helped you answer your question: “Is my teen ready to drive?” If you feel the answer is yes, you might like to learn more about online drivers education for teens or in-car teen driving lessons.
Choosing a Driver Education Course in Texas: How to Pick Between Parent-Taught Drivers Ed and Professional Instructor-Led Drivers Ed
Choosing a driver education course in Texas may seem like a tricky task: there are many options and providers out there. But with DriversEd.com, getting a drivers license in Texas doesn’t have to be confusing, difficult, or expensive. DriversEd.com is America’s largest driving school, and we offer drivers education options to suit all families. So, whether you choose Parent-Taught Drivers Education or Professional Instructor-Led Drivers Education, we support you every step of the way. If you’re still trying to decide which route will work best for your family, here is a brief summary of the options.
1. Parent-Taught Drivers Education
What is Parent-Taught Drivers Education?
Parent-Taught Drivers Education (PTDE) allows teens between the ages of 14 and 17 to take the theory part of their drivers education online and complete their behind the wheel training with their parent.
Why might families choose Parent Taught Drivers Education?
Some parents prefer PTDE because it puts them in control as their teen learns to drive. Parents are with their teen every step of the way.
It is important for parents to note that, as their teen’s driving instructor, they must supervise the entire process, including both the theoretical portion online, and the practical portion which will take place in the family car.
This means the parent must commit to 32 hours of theoretical instruction, 14 hours of in-car instruction, and 30 hours of driving practice (10 hours of which must come at night). Since there are limits on the amount of instruction a student can take per day, the course will take an absolute minimum of 60 days to complete.
How does DriversEd.com help with Parent Taught Drivers Education?
For families who choose this route, DriversEd.com has an online PTDE drivers education course specifically developed to help make the learning process more successful.
The parent-taught drivers ed course is designed to help young drivers learn. Each lesson includes interactive elements to keep teens engaged and focused on learning. The course is also designed to help parents teach. It includes checklists and special sections of the course just for parents, so they know exactly what to communicate during each lesson.
Parents can rest assured that the course curriculum fully meets state requirements and will prepare teens for the DPS written permit test. The course even includes unlimited free online practice tests to help prepare for the real test!
2. Professional Instructor-Led Drivers Ed
What is Professional Instructor-Led Drivers Education?
Professional Instructor-Led Drivers Education allows teens to meet their theoretical requirement for learning to drive online, at their own pace, then take their driving lessons with a professional driving school.
Why might families choose Professional Instructor-Led Drivers Education?
Professional Instructor-led Drivers Education is a great way for parents to make sure their teen is receiving the absolute best drivers education experience.
Driving lessons take place in the driving school’s vehicle. At DriversEd.com, this means that teens learn to drive in vehicles with top safety ratings; vehicles that have been specially equipped with additional mirrors and an added brake to keep the new driver safe.
Professional driving instructors are highly experienced in teaching young people how to drive, they are great at communicating with teenagers, are state-licensed and background checked so parents can be confident their teen is learning to drive with a trustworthy instructor who will build a solid foundation for safe driving.
Not only that, but professional driving instructors are up-to-date on the latest techniques in crash avoidance, braking, driving safety, and Texas driving laws—and they’ll pass that knowledge on to novice drivers!
After just a few hours of professional driving lessons, the student can begin practice driving with a parent.
How does DriversEd.com help with Professional Instructor-Led Drivers Education?
At DriversEd.com, teens can take their online drivers education and their professional driving lessons with us.
Our interactive online drivers ed course is full of graphics and easy-to-understand content to ensure students retain knowledge. It teaches the basics of driving as well as defensive driving techniques to maximize the safety of novice drivers behind the wheel.
As a plus, completing our Texas teen drivers ed course enables teenagers to take the DPS knowledge test online for free. And, once they have their learners permit, teens can easily schedule their in-car professional driving lessons online.
Ready to drive? Sign up for online drivers education.
[Written by DriversEd.com Contributing Writer Alexis David, who is keeping an ongoing California drivers ed diary for us, detailing her experiences going through our California online drivers ed course.]
When I watch my parents drive, I realize a few things. (1) they can stay up while driving in the early mornings or the late nights without dozing off. (2) they can hold a conversation and still pay attention to what’s happening on the road in front of them. (3) they can sing so off-key and have fun without getting distracted! And so I think, “Hey, if my parents can drive so easily, how bad could it be for me?”
While my parents make driving look incredibly easy, I’ve realized that I’ve jumped to this conclusion a little too quickly. Driving includes knowing your car, knowing your capability to drive, understanding all the rules of the road, knowing when to turn on your headlights and when not to, being aware of the weather that can affect your car, and many other possibilities that can affect your driving. There are ways to handle malfunctions in your car, a certain number of days that a license can be suspended, and what you should know when yielding to a bus or school zone. All in all, there’s a handful of basic things you should understand and grasp.
So far, I’ve learned that driving is a privilege. I’ve been given responsibilities (like the safety of others), and if I don’t do them properly or if I disobey them, I can have my license revoked. I can also have my license suspended if I get in numerous accidents and convictions. As a driver, I always need to pay attention around me. If I’m feeling tired, I should pull over to a rest station and nap or sleep to get more energy instead of dozing off and getting into an accident.
I’ve mastered pavement and curb markings. For example, a dashed white line means you can change lanes, but, here in California, if the white line is solid, that means you most likely shouldn’t, and that if the solid white line designates a turn, you cannot cross it. Yellow lines are in the center of the road for two-way traffic. In the time when my mom and I were driving home one day, I got so excited about knowing what these road markings mean that I pointed them out and told her about them. We had a conversation about what I learned so far, her adding some facts I already knew, and I, incorporating my insight of what I had learned. I was very proud of myself that day because I knew what my mom was talking about when on the road. The course is paying off!
My experience with drivers ed teaches valuable information that I can remember. I love how I can work at my own pace, and go back to any modules if I forgot anything or need to review what I’ve learned. It creates an easy learning experience, and includes many visuals, click-to-see activities, and tests at the end of each module to see if you’ve understood enough to move on. Right now, I’m currently studying the Driving Maneuvers module. I’m hoping I can finish all the way up to the Alcohol, Driving, and Substance Abuse module by mid-March! I’m very interested in what the course has in store for me.
[Guest post by instructor and car captain Eva Flores! We'll be running a series of posts by her, getting her insights into everything related to driving lessons. In this post, she talks through a common problem for new drivers: being nervous about getting behind the wheel, and provides tips to overcome a fear of driving.]
Common Driving Fears
Learning how to drive can be intimidating for many new drivers. For teen drivers, the thought of undertaking their required 6 hours of driving instruction* can cause nerves to race and stress levels to soar. Fear immediately takes over, causing students to feel anxious. This article addresses some of the most popular anxieties among student drivers, and illustrates ways to alleviate the fear and stress, so you can feel comfortable when you’re behind the wheel.
So, what are the most common types of fears students have when driving for the first time?
- Cars driving too close
- Driving at a high speed
- Making the wrong maneuvers
- Passing other cars in traffic
- Driving in tight spaces
- Driving at night
- Driving with a stranger (even a licensed driving instructor)
What to Do About Fear of Driving
Realize that no one on the road was a superstar driver overnight. Everyone you see on the road had a starting point, including myself. Anyone with a valid drivers license will tell you they’ve had these fears at some point in their driving history, too. It’s completely normal to have anxieties about driving, especially if you’re freshly starting out.
When you embark on anything new, it may take you out of your comfort zone. Somewhere along this new experience, however, is where the fear creeps in. If this resonates with you, let’s take a look to see how you can overcome your fear of driving and build your confidence level when you’re at the wheel.
Step 1 to Overcome Fear of Driving: Take a Deep Breath
Remember: You are not alone. We have all gone through this, or a similar process. Sometimes our brains react to thoughts by over-thinking, causing fears and anxiety levels to go into over-drive. I can tell you from personal experience that driving can be the scariest thing you’ll ever do at a certain stage in your life, but it won’t take long for you to overcome your fears. And driving will soon become one of the most invigorating things you’ve ever done! When you take your first 2 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction with an instructor from DriversEd.com, you are with a trained and licensed professional. Our job as driving instructors is to make sure you feel safe and comfortable during training to get you on your way towards becoming a SMART, safe, and confident driver. So, when you’re in the driver’s seat, take a deep breath. You’ll be okay. Your instructor is there to help make sure of that.
Step 2 to Overcome Fear of Driving: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
We all have comfort zones we like to stay in. Sometimes we have to step out of our zones a little bit to help us grow. You may not feel like you’re ready to drive on the freeway, or ready to take on parallel parking, or to drive on that heavily congested road that people are always talking about. But, you won’t be able to take on that next step if you don’t first try. Then, trust that you’ll get better as you stretch further out of your comfort zone. As driving instructors, we won’t push you to try a driving maneuver you’re really not ready for. We’ll build your skills gradually as we work through your driving lessons, and we’ll save more challenging maneuvers for a future lesson. So, when it comes to driving on that freeway, you will be ready! Safety is our number one concern, and our goal is to make sure our students are well equipped to become safe and SMART drivers. So trust us, and trust yourself, and be ready for growth experiences.
Step 3 to Overcome Fear of Driving: Build Confidence in Yourself
Driving for the first time, or the first few times, is nerve-racking. But, the only way to overcome the fear and anxiety is to simply go through it. When you’re on the road, cars may drive too close, you will drive in tight spaces, you will drive faster than 25mph, you will have to pass other cars in traffic when you have to change lanes. At some point, you will drive at night. But, by the time these things happen, you will be prepared. Before you even sit in the driver’s seat for your first lesson you will have taken online drivers education** and it’s your driving instructor’s job to help you learn how to deal with unexpected situations on the road. You may even make the wrong maneuver, but that’s how we learn and become better and safer drivers. As you practice and gain more experience behind-the-wheel, believe me, your confidence level will grow. Driving is a skill, and any skill requires patience, learning aptitude, and practice. With experience comes confidence. Just remember to keep telling yourself, “I got this.”
With time, practice, and a positive mindset, you will overcome your fear of driving. As driving instructors, we are here to help guide you along the process so you can drive with confidence, knowing you have the skills and knowledge that have prepared you for a life of SMART, safe driving.
*Ed. Note: The requirement varies by state. In California, it is 6 hours. If you are curious about your state’s requirements, visit https://driversed.com/teen-drivers-ed.aspx, choose your state, and read more.
** Again, requirements for drivers education vary by state.
[Written by DriversEd.com Contributing Writer Grace Keller, who is keeping an ongoing drivers ed diary for us, detailing her experiences going through one of our online drivers ed courses. Check out her earlier entries here and here.]
I’m currently on the fourth lesson module of my online driver’s ed course. It’s definitely taking a sharp turn (driving pun) from the previous, rather intense lessons I was taught in the last module, “Being Fit to Drive”. In my last driver’s ed diary entry, I talked about what I’ve learned about being in a healthy emotional state for driving. I described my own experiences being a teenaged driver, putting my safety first by always keeping myself focused and with a clear mind while driving.
The 2nd half of the lesson touched on the sensitive topic that is drunk driving. This is something I’ve always been terribly afraid of—I’m sure almost everyone has. The first time I was ever exposed to the world of people who drive while under the influence, I was in a car with my older cousin, and he started to slow down in order to gain distance away from the car in front of us that was slightly swerving off the road every few seconds—my cousin said that he thought the driver might have been drinking. I’m thankful to be able to say honestly that I’ve never been in a car with a driver that was under the influence, and I’ll make sure to never let myself get into a situation where this might happen. While going through this lesson, I was hit with the unbelievable statistic that in 2007, there were 12,998 deaths alone just caused by a driver being under the influence of alcohol. That’s 32% of the total fatalities in the whole year! The phrase “drinking and driving don’t mix” is far from being a cliché: it’s completely true and something that I believe should become a sort of mantra for anyone who is of age to drink and to drive. The last section of the lesson showed a short film called “Red Asphalt V”. This movie, though short, showed the very extreme consequences of people’s actions while driving, whether they be caused by aggressive driving, drunk driving, etc. With interviews with parents of children who passed in car accidents caused by driving under the influence and parents of children who did not see the outcomes that their aggressive driving might cause, it was eye-opening to how seriously driving must be taken at all times.
The module I’m on now is “The Vehicle”. It is teaching me all I need to know about operating a car by being safe, and by being familiar with the vehicle and what it is capable of doing. It’s also teaching me everything I’ve ever wondered about the history of cars. Cars have definitely transformed since their initial invention—at first they just looked like strange, four-wheeled bicycles. Now they’re slick and cool-looking (which is probably a huge part of why I can’t wait to get my own!) I have also been learning about the effect cars and their fossil fuels have had on our environment. This is something I’m also learning in my astronomy class at school right now, so it’s perfect timing that I’m on this particular lesson of my course right now. The issue of climate change is one that I hold very close to my head and heart, as I know how serious it is for us, and for future generations of people. Though I am very much anticipating driving a car of my very own in the near future, I’ll be sure to stay cognizant of the effects it may have on the planet if I am driving excessively. I can hardly wait to get even further in my driver’s ed lessons, since I know that every day I recall information from the course, I’m preparing to become an even better and even more knowledgeable driver than before.
[Written by contributing writer Amy Tarczynski.]
Today I rowed a boat for the first time in six weeks. As a collegiate rower, it’s a big deal to be back on the water after a stretch of only training on land. The first few minutes always feel a little bit wobbly, but my body still remembers the basic motion of the rowing stroke. Within minutes, I’ve got a feel for the boat again. After a few days, I am pretty much back to the level of technical skill that I had when I left off.
Driving a car seems to work the same way. When I went home this winter break and started driving regularly for the first time in months, I had to think twice about the harder stuff, like parallel parking. The basics though, like checking my mirrors or using a turn signal, came naturally.
Both rowing a boat and driving a car are intuitive to me now. However, they are not instinctual behaviors because humans are not born knowing how to do either thing. Learning to row took boatloads of practice and concentration, pun intended. Similarly, those first driving lessons when I was fifteen-and-a-half exhausted me with things to remember: checking my blind spot before changing lanes, which way to turn the wheel when backing up, deciding whether to go through a yellow light, etc. Only after time did those things start to become second nature. For me it was probably after having my license for several months.
Our ability to turn a thought-intensive, novel activity to an easy, routine one is “muscle memory”—a process of first learning something consciously, but using experience to learn to do that task subconsciously. After repeating a complex task enough times, our minds can start to execute the procedure without the help of conscious instructions.
You can see why those six months of required driving practice for teenagers* are so important. It is the time when you begin to train your brain to execute driving tasks. With the help of your instructor at first and a parent later on, you have an experienced voice guiding you through the procedures and helping you form good habits. I remember rolling my eyes a little when my dad would repeatedly tell me simple things that sounded obvious, but the repetition would lead to muscle memory. Nowadays I always check for other drivers getting into their cars when I’m about to back out of a parking lot. When I start to go at a green light, I do a quick scan across the intersection to make sure it’s clear. Again, these things seem easy—but it makes all the difference to do them with intention so that they eventually become automatic.
I was lucky to have someone who took an active role in helping me form good habits. That can be rare since people often forget how unnatural driving is when they first start. That forgetfulness is the source of expert bias—that frustrating conundrum when your parent, for example, doesn’t understand how something straightforward to them, like merging, might be more difficult for you.
So if you’re a new driver wondering when this stuff is going to get easier…don’t worry. It will happen with disciplined practice and the help of your instructors and guardians. But if you’re a longtime driver helping someone learn, remember that driving wasn’t always easy—and try to be a little extra patient.
*[Ed. Note: This is a state-specific requirement. In California, new drivers are required to:
- Take 6 hours of professional driving lessons
- Complete 50 hours of supervised driving practice (including 10 hours at night)
- Hold a permit for at least 6 months
Other states have different requirements, but all states require a supervised practice driving period before a new driver can receive a license. If you have questions about your state's practice driving requirements, check the FAQ page for the state-specific online driver education course from DriversEd.com, and look for a question like "How do I earn my drivers license?"]
As the year winds down, I find myself thinking a lot about making 2017 … better than 2016. I don’t have control over much other than myself, of course, so most of the ways I’ve identified to improve the future start with me (and, I hope, don’t end there). My list might look a little like yours: read more; write more; lose twenty pounds; be more involved in my community—and drive better.
Like everybody, I’ve got my share of driving vices. The image you see here is a whiteboard here in our Oakland office, where people wrote down their vices, pledging to try to get past them in the coming year. (I’ve written about driving vices before: speeding; road rage; bad trip planning.) And, like everybody, I’m sometimes a pedestrian, sometimes a driver, sometimes a bike rider, sometimes a user of public transit, sometimes a passenger, and all of those roles come with their own vices, too.
Sometimes I’m the pedestrian staring at his phone. Sometimes I’m the guy who forgets to put his bag on the ground when he’s standing on a BART train. And sometimes I’m the bike rider wearing headphones and pulling his phone out to change a podcast. Again, maybe my list looks a little like yours?
All of this needs to improve. The question, of course, is “How?”
The key for me has been to take a four-step approach:
- Identify the desired outcome: “Get past my driving vices.”
- Break the outcome down into actionable steps: “No speeding. Keep cool behind the wheel. Don’t set out for new environs without a map.”
- Create measurable goals out of those steps: “Go one week without speeding. Go one month without speeding.”
- Build daily habits to attain those goals.
For me, habits are the key. And I have not found a better way to build new, better habits than the approach usually called “Don’t Break the Chain”. “Don’t Break the Chain” tells you to identify things you can do, every single day. Every day you do these things, you mark it on a calendar you see every day. For me, this is incredibly motivating: seeing the Xs crawl across the calendar makes me want to, well, not break the chain!
So there it is: I’m resolving to be a better driver in 2017, to get past my driving vices. Of course, to try to do better, you have to know what you’re doing wrong. As an employee of DriversEd.com (an eDriving company), I’ve got a great team around me who are diligent about identifying my areas for improvement. If you need to know what your weaknesses are behind the wheel, you can use our RoadRISK® Self-Assessment by signing up here. If you’re not yet driving, why not resolve to get your license in 2017? It’s an immensely important, and rewarding, set of skills to have, and we’re there for you every step of the way. If you’ve been waiting to learn to drive, resolve to make your life better in 2017 by gaining more freedom, more responsibility, and more control over your own life. Resolve to get your license in 2017. We’ll resolve to help you identify and conquer any bad habits you may have behind the wheel. Together, we can make next year all that it can be.