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Staying Cool in the Cockpit
Be Cool in the Cockpit - Parents Set Bad Example as Drivers

Notoriously known for pumping invisible brakes and clutching passenger-seat door handles, parents aren’t always the best driving instructors while riding with their young teens. Despite being experienced drivers, parents often fail miserably when it comes to serving as a cool copilot.

One way parents can ensure sanity during driving practice sessions with their teens is by attempting to focus on just one aspect of driving for each lesson. Driving lessons in small doses may just provide the best way for parents and teens to cover the most ground.

According to national insurance company MetLife, these common problems between parents and young drivers can be easily solved through a series of important, yet simple, driving lessons.

From driving tips, to common problems, to safe driving habits, MetLife provides parents with suggestions and tips they can use prior to jumping into the car with their young teen. A good lesson plan and simple communication can ensure any parent/teen combo will have a safe, but fun time, while on the road.

Before You Begin

Get a View From the Copilot's Seat
As a driver, it's simple to tell just how close your surroundings are. However, one look at those mailboxes from the copilot's seat and you might think your teen driver is about to run them over.

It's important to remember the road looks very different from the passenger side of the car. Take a ride in the passenger’s seat before experiencing it with your new driver. This way you have a feel for how the road looks from a passenger’s viewpoint, and you’ll have one less surprise when your teen takes the wheel.

This is especially important if you plan to check how well your teen centers the vehicle in its lane. The road's center line looks very different from the passenger's seat as well.

Act as the New Driver
Roll play and try pretending to be the new driver with an experienced adult driver giving you instructions. You might find being told to “turn left,” “turn right,” “stop here” or “pull in there” can be awkward — and downright annoying! This experience can help you better understand what the new driver goes through, and how they feel when their driving lessons begin.

Stay Alert
It’s important to stay alert. Though this probably won’t be a problem, since only a very fortunate parent or guardian can truly relax while their teenager is behind the wheel. However, remember that the minute you start to relax could be the very minute your teen needs help. Be comfortable, but remain alert.

Remember Your Goal
Make sure you realize that you can only cover so much ground in each driving lesson. However, practicing with your teen can pay off in the years to come. With repeated practicing, you can help your teenager learn to make important decisions and judgements rather than rely on trial — and quite possibly — error.

First Practice Sessions
Try to practice with your teen as often as possible, with the first few sessions lasting only 15 to 20 minutes. You can eventually increase the practice periods to one hour during daylight hours, eventually reaching one-hour increments at night and during poor weather conditions. Try and take advantage of every opportunity to practice with your teen in the vehicle. Always feel free to take a break if either you or your teen become tired or frustrated. Your teen's driving can't improve under tense conditions. It’s all part of staying cool behind the wheel!

Start in a Parking Lot
Empty parking lots are great places to test if your teen can drive in a straight line, start up and drive short distances or stop smoothly.

Try testing your teen’s ability to turn the wheel while accelerating. Decide on a point in the parking lot to turn right, and make sure your teen can complete the turn without first drifting to the left or cutting the corner. Then, complete a left turn the same way. Also have your young driver practice making right and left turns after coming to a complete stop.

Helping Your New Driver See

The key to being in tune with other traffic and staying in control of a driving situation is continuously looking ahead, to the sides and behind your vehicle.

Doing it Well
Remind your teen to look as far ahead as possible at all times. Driving through town often requires observing at least a block ahead of you. The ability to glance frequently in both the inside and outside mirrors, and look over your shoulder before turning or changing lanes, helps young drivers better observe the road around them.

Your Role
To improve their observation skills, ask your teen to tell you as soon as they notice something change, such as a new traffic light, stop sign or intersection. You can also ask the new driver to point out areas where their vision could be restricted including hillcrests and blind intersections.

Make sure your young driver is aware of when there are other vehicles behind them. You can also quiz your teen to see if they know how fast they are driving without first looking at the speedometer.

Common Problems and Solutions
First time drivers often stare straight ahead for a long periods of time without scanning the sides of the vehicle or checking its mirrors and instruments frequently enough. Inexperienced drivers may also drive through intersections without slowing, which could mean they aren't observing the situation properly. Also keep an eye on the vehicle to ensure it isn't drifting in the lane. These are good tests to see if your teen is paying adequete attention.

Try to encourage your new driver to be prepared to react to everything in the driving path or objects that could cross the road and end up in the way. Also, encourage your teen to look beyond the vehicle ahead and notice any brake lights in the lane as a sign that traffic may be slowing down.

Also try and teach your teenager to watch for danger signals including car exhust, improperly positioned front wheels, turn signals or brakes lights that could signify a parked or slowed vehicle ahead.

Key Lessons
Remind your new driver to observe all sides of the vehicle, as well as the instrument panel, while they drive. This ensures they have all the information necessary to make good driving decisions.

Places to Practice
Quiet residential streets are some of the best places to practice observing all sides of a vehicle. While driving, make sure your teen looks out for special hazards including parked vehicles, driveways, children playing, bicyclists and pedestrians. Intersections demand scanning from side to side. As your teen begins moving onto heavier traffic and higher-speed roads, this skill becomes increasingly important for safety.

More Tips to Help Your Driving Teen

Teaching your teen to drive safely can be a complicated, drawn out process if you aren't prepared. Here, MetLife offers additional tips for parents looking to help their teens form good, safe driving habits during their early years.

Map Your Route

Resist the temptation to just go out and drive around. The 'sink or swim' motto may be fine for other activites, but to make sure your teen's driving sessions go smoothly, it’s best to be prepared. By adding a bit of structure to your lessons, any new driver can pick up the basics.

Make sure you carefully consider your driving route prior to hitting the road with your new driver. It will help you get off to a better start and ensure your teen is on heavily-trafficked roadways only after you are both ready.

When choosing where to practice, try to take a few moments and think about a potential route, driving it first to better prepare for any potential difficulties. Talk with your teen about the practice session before you go, agreeing on what will be covered and how much time you’ll spend on the lesson. In some cases, you might want to drive to the practice session yourself, and then let your teenager take over after you reach your destination.

Following in Traffic
Emphasize that a safe following distance betwen you and the vehicle in front of you is a key to preventing most collisions, and can be even more important than quick reactions and good brakes.

Doing it Well
Your teen may find that a two-second distance rule will help them maintain a safe following distance. This means, they should keep at least a two-second interval between their vehicle and the vehicle ahead while driving under optimal conditions. However, when driving in adverse weather, road conditions or at night, the following distance should be at least doubled.

Remind your teen that the closer they follow to the traffic ahead of them, the harder it becomes to see what may lay ahead on the roadways.

Always encourage your driver to look several vehicles ahead of their own. It's good to remind your teen that if any vehicles ahead slow down or suddenly stop, it’s likely that all the vehicles behind will have to do the same. By maintaining a good following distance your teen will have more time to react to the actions of other drivers.

Unfortunately, many unsafe drivers also tailgate. If you new driver sees someone tailgating their vehicle, it is important they keep an eye out for that driver to avoid possibily being hit in the rear. You can suggest to your young driver that 'pumping' your brakes by touching them on and off quickly to flash the brake lights, and using turn signals in advance, indicate your intention to slow down, stop or turn.

Your Role
Count out the two-second distance for your teen. As they become more experienced with the two-second distance ask, “How many seconds are you from the vehicle ahead?” After a while, your new driver may be able to follow at a safe distance without having to count it out every time.

Common Problems and Solutions
New drivers sometimes count the seconds too fast and do not anticipate changes in the roadway as quickly as they should. They may concentrate on following so much that they lose sight of pedestrians and other vehicles. They also may tend to follow certain vehicles too closely.

With continued practice, your teenager may realize the need to follow larger vehicles at a greater than two-second distance because of the inability to see around them.

Key Lessons
When being followed, communicate with the drivers of the vehicles behind you.

Places to Practice
Choose the right time of day and an open road with a moderate volume of traffic.

Controlling Speed

Most traffic violations are for speeding, and speeding contributes to most traffic accidents. That’s why it’s very important to try and help a new driver develop the skills to make good decisions about vehicle speed.

Doing it Well
Maximum speed limits are set on the basis of ideal driving conditions — good weather, good roads and good traffic conditions. However, it’s difficult to find all these conditions at once.

That’s why a new driver needs to be reminded to constantly adjust their speed as driving conditions change. Adjusting speed to traffic and road conditions can be a bit awkward at first for an unskilled driver. You can help by emphasizing that your new driver should keep pace with the other traffic by maintaining the same speed as the flow of traffic — as long as speed limits are observed.

Try to avoid large groups or 'packs' of traffic. Show your teen driver how to do this by adjusting vehicle speed. Have them slow up a little and let the pack go by before resuming speed.

Get your new driver to adjust speed as necessary in new places such as unfamiliar intersections, school crossings or other areas where pedestrians are present. Keep in mind that driving 20 mph in some situations may be too fast despite the fact the speed limit is 25 mph.

Your Role
You can ask your new driver to maintain a constant speed. For example, you can say, “Let’s see if you can maintain 35 mph for the next half mile.” Your teen may find the speedometer will drop below or go above 35 mph. This should improve with practice. Have them practice when driving under various road conditions such as hills, curves and dirt roads.

Common Problems and Solutions
Often times new drivers tend to drive too fast through intersections. Try to make your teen realize how dangerous intersections can be — even if they have the right-of-way. At the early driving stage, you need to make sure your teen is aware of how to approach an intersection. New drivers tend to drive too fast on curves as well. Remind your new driver that a curve is just a small part of a regular turn. It can be hard to understand the need to slow down when entering a curve and accelerate while leaving the curve. However, with lots of practice and reminders, this will become easier.

Practice will help your teen anticipate speed changes under different conditions including hills and slick roadways. With a little practice, your new driver will be able to adjust the vehicle’s speed to the road conditions.

Make sure your teen driver does not make these common driving mistakes:

  • driving too fast for road and weather conditions.

  • slowing down too much when exiting a high-speed roadway.

  • losing speed when changing lanes.

  • letting the grade of a hill change their speed — slowing down when going uphill or speeding up when going downhill.

Key Lessons
Set goals for constant speed, and adjust speed for road and weather conditions.

Places to Practice
It’s best speed control in easy-to-handle places first. In early practice sessions try to get your teen driver to maintain constant speed on streets in residential areas or on two-lane roads with little traffic and few side streets. As they become more experienced, you can begin to venture into areas where traffic is heavier and where there is a need to adjust speed more often.

You can begin to practice increasing speed and merging onto another roadway by merging at a lightly-traveled intersection with a yield sign. Once your teen has mastered that, try it on a higher-speed road with a longer acceleration area. Finally, work on speed control while passing or being passed, as well as on hills and curves.

Doing it Well
Try to help your teenager see that the proper use of space involves positioning the vehicle properly on all sides. Your new driver should soon see that it’s necessary to position the vehicle as far away as possible from hazards or potential conflicts without disrupting the traffic flow. Make sure they understand that jumping across the center line just to get past a parked vehicle can create a dangerous situation. In some instances, the vehicle must be placed between two hazards if the available space is very narrow. After practice, your teen should begin to realize the need to adjust speed constantly to maintain a proper space cushion on the side of the vehicle.

Parent's Role
New drivers can be confused when trying to abide by all the different space requirements. For example, you may find yourself saying, “keep right to avoid oncoming vehicles” and then,“ keep left to avoid parked vehicles.”

So, what happens if your new driver faces oncoming traffic and parked vehicles at the same time? If the risk is about equal, it may be best to steer a middle course between the oncoming and parked vehicles. This may not leave as much of a space cushion as desired, but still enough space to react to sudden movements from either side.

When space is not adequate between hazards, advise your new driver to handle one hazard at a time. Use space to be able to maneuver, change directions and avoid tight places. For example, on a narrow bridge, rather than meeting an oncoming vehicle, it’s best for your teen to slow a bit to let the other vehicle go over the bridge first.

Common Problems
New drivers have a tendency to drift toward oncoming vehicles, especially on higher-speed, multi-lane roads. Often times they concentrate so hard on the oncoming vehicle that they fail to check their own vehicle’s intended path.

Blind Spots
Make sure your teen understands that driving in the “blind spot” of other vehicles could be very dangerous. You can safely make your teen aware of blind spots while your vehicle is parked. With your teenager in the driver’s seat, walk around the vehicle and ask them to tell you when you are not visible in the rearview and side mirrors. As you’re driving, you could point out vehicles that might be in a blind spot.

Parked Vehicles
Even parked vehicles can present a problem. Inexperienced drivers tend to believe that parked vehicles will always stay parked, so they tend not leave enough space for them. Encourage your teen to move away from anything parked and check for indications that these vehicles might be pulling out. Remind your new driver that parked vehicles also hide pedestrians, who often times do not check before crossing the road. Especially dangerous are children who may run out into the road or adults who are not paying attention.

Key Lessons
Maintain space on all sides of the vehicle. Handle one hazard at a time. Be aware of blind spots.

Places to Practice
Try to practice use of space with parked vehicles on quiet side streets, or in neighborhoods without children playing near the road. You can then progress to more heavily-traveled streets with pedestrians, bicycles and oncoming vehicles.

As you and your teen move on to multi-lane streets, you can continue to work on keeping a space cushion with vehicles beside you — both moving and parked — and your teen will have a safe foundation and practical experience.

Deciding When to Go: Merging, Yielding and Passing

Timing is everything when deciding whether to enter, exit, join or cross traffic. Most of these decisions occur at intersections, and new drivers have to learn to judge the timing in order to make safe decisions.

Doing it Well
Some drivers, especially new ones, have difficulty judging the time and distance required to make maneuvers in traffic. Additionally, when turning onto a street or going straight across an intersection, it’s important to make sure your teen allows enough room to complete their maneuver. Remind them to accelerate to the proper speed and watch out for pedestrians or stopped vehicles.

Merging and changing lanes requires that your new driver keep a good amount of space between their car and the vehicles around them. Remind them it's best to yield to ongoing traffic.

Your Role
Try to lead your teenager one step at a time through the correct selection of gaps. You can try having them select gaps for you as you drive, telling you whether the gap is safe or not. You might even give your teen a watch to time the gaps.

When your teen is driving, have them tell you what gap should be selected before they actually move into that gap. Then you say 'yes' or 'no' before the move is made. Once you’ve practiced this, your driver should be able to select and move into gaps through all kinds of traffic. Evaluate decisions on the spot, making suggestions as needed. Convince your new driver to avoid taking unnecessary risks. It's important they allow extra room when practicing any maneuver for the first time. Remind your driver to be patient, waiting for the best time to go.

Sometimes, a change in direction is needed. For example, if your teen is having trouble turning left across a very busy street, they might need to turn right and make a U-turn where it’s safe to do so.

Critical judgment is required for passing, so carefully choose the times when you pracitce this skill. Make sure your new driver can master passing other vehicles on a multi-lane road before attempting to pass on a two-lane road — which, depending upon traffic patterns in your area, you may choose not to encourage at all. If possible, have someone else in your family drive another vehicle so your teen can practice passing and being passed.

Common Problems
Uncontrolled intersections, or intersections controlled only by yield or stop signs, are the most difficult for new drivers. Making a right turn on a red light is another challenge, one that you may simply advise against unless there is no traffic with which to merge. When your inexperienced driver selects a good gap in traffic, make sure they accelerate to a desired speed as soon and as safely as possible.

New drivers have a tendency to slow down when changing lanes, which is exactly the opposite of what they should do. Remind your new driver not to slow down with most lane-changing maneuvers. If your teenager is moving too slowly, an acceptable gap may soon become unacceptable. Watch to make sure your teen is not concentrating so much on making the correct gap selection that they forget to watch out for other vehicles, pedestrians or bicyclists.

Key Lessons
Gap selection is always difficult, but it is a skill that needs to be practiced. It's best to practice on multi-lane roads, reminding your teen to maintain the vehicle's speed while they move into the desired gap.

Places to Practice
Practice passing on roads with little traffic before attempting to practice selecting gaps in heavier traffic. You can have your teen select gaps for you when you’re driving so they can observe you driving. Talk to them about what was correct and what was incorrect about their selections. Gap selection is a skill that must be practiced hundreds of times. Do as much of this practice as possible on side streets before moving into heavier and/or faster traffic.

Communicating on the Road

Drivers can’t rely on words to communicate on the road. New drivers need to learn a new type of communication that relies on signs, signals and anticipating situations based on what they see on the road. Your teen needs to learn how to make sure other drivers see them, and work to let those drivers know what they plan to do.

Doing it Well
Practice communicating when changing direction and speed. Make sure your new driver learns to signal before changing lanes, turning corners and entering and exiting highways. Show them how to use brake lights and hand signals to communicate to others drivers that they are going to slow, stop or park.

Your Role
As the two of you drive along, try to make an effort to point out when other drivers fail to communicate. Teach your teen that a good rule of thumb for making a turn is to signal with your brakes first. This will ensure other drivers are aware the vehicle will be slowing down. Remind your new driver to also pay attention to the traffic behind their vehicle. To avoid being hit from the rear, suggest that your teen check the mirrors and pump the brakes before slowing or stopping.

Common Problems and Solutions
New drivers can become overly concerned with putting on the signal indicator. Sometimes, they fail to let the vehicle straighten out from a curve or a previous turn before they begin signaling for the next turn. Make sure your teenager waits until the vehicle is straight before attempting to signal again. Beware of new drivers risking loss of steering control while using the signal lever.

Have your teen practice using their signals without taking their eyes off the road or their hands off the steering wheel. This can also hold true for operating other instruments in the vehicle while driving. You may need to remind your new driver to wait to tune the radio or use other instruments while in an intersection.

Key Lessons
Make sure other drivers can see your vehicle, and let other drivers know what you plan to do.

Places to Practice
Communicating can be practiced on any type of road. Remind your new driver to signal for every turn, even in a quiet neighborhood. Signaling will then become automatic, which is helpful especially in heavy traffic. With good signaling skills, your teen can spend more time focused on other important driving decisions.

Click here for additional Tips to Help Your Driving Teen

Source: MetLife