Transitioning from Passenger to Driver

We lose more teenagers from crashes than just about anything. Allowing a teen to drive is one of the most terrifying things parents do. They spend 16 years raising you from an infant and then are expected to turn you loose in the most dangerous environment where more teens die than in anything else they will ever do.

Having spent over a year now in the driver education industry, I’d have to say from listening to teens and new drivers and watching their behaviors, one of the biggest issues that I do not believe is taken seriously enough is the transition from being a passenger to a driver. It’s covered in driver’s ed classes, but as I say, I just don’t believe that it is taken as seriously as it needs to be.

As a passenger you are rarely focused on the road and the things going on around you. Today, teens are immersed in their phones. In past days, it was not really being engaged in the drive. Passengers would be looking out the window daydreaming or playing with the radio, anything but really paying attention to the road ahead and what traffic is doing.

Then, you get a few days or weeks education on how to operate a car and given a test to prove that you can operate it proficiently in a 10-minute drive around the block. If, during that little bit of time, you can demonstrate that you can do the required minimum, then you are given a license allowing you to drive freely among the masses.

The problem is that it takes most of us a lot longer to adjust from being a passenger to a driver than a driver’s ed class can prepare you for. For your whole life you’ve been a passenger and didn’t really need to pay much attention (if any) to what was going on. Now, you’re the driver and it is expected that you’re magically going to modify your behavior in just a few weeks. This isn’t realistic.

To try and help make the adjustment, states have the graduated driver’s license program. This is intended to be a transition period from the passenger to the driver, but I don’t think enough emphasis is given to what really needs to happen during this time.

One of the things I see young drivers doing all the time is multitasking while driving. They are, of course, on their phones and playing with the radio or driving at speeds and in ways that are unsafe… or have friends in the car distracting them. All are things that can cost lives.

There is a mindset that needs to be developed, especially in new drivers, to try to never take your eyes off the road. During your graduated driver’s license period, you need to learn to stop being distracted by other things and completely focus on the road and what is around you. What I see is teens trying to learn to multitask and drive. That isn’t the intent and not what teens need to be doing.

Part of being a passenger is that you see parents doing all the things you’re trying to do. Adjust the radio, take a sip of coffee, keep peace with you and your siblings… the list is long. But what you fail to realize is that (1) when you’re parents learned to drive there was a lot less traffic on the roads, and (2) by the time you’ve come along, they have been driving for many years.

In order to be a good driver, your job while you have your graduated drivers license, is to learn to not be doing all the things that distract you and to discipline yourself not to play with the radio or mess with your phone. You have to be learning to watch and anticipate what all the other horrible drivers on the road are going to do.

Some of the things to watch for are the driver’s head movements. Watch what they are looking at and that will often tell you what they are looking to do. If they are looking at their mirrors or turning their heads looking in a blind spot, they are probably going to change lanes or make a turn. You can also watch where they are in the lane. If they are moving over to the stripes, they may be getting ready to change lanes.

Another thing you need to be learning to do is keeping track of the traffic around you. You should mentally keep a running tally of what cars are around you and verify it every so often (every minute or two) in the mirrors of where they are and what they are doing. So when you need to change lanes you should have a pretty good idea of who is around you and where they are at. Your mirror check should be to verify this and make sure they know that you have your directional on and what you are going to do.

All of this is called situational awareness. Knowing all the things that are going on around you at all times. Gamers have a bit of an edge on non-gamers because most games teach this. In role playing games they need to know what is around them, just like you do on the road. There shouldn’t be any surprises. During the first few months, you need to learn to keep track of all this stuff. You need to stay focused and not even daydream… Nothing but knowing what is going on around you and the best way to deal with it!

Learning this discipline is what your graduated driver’s license is about. If you do any searches on teen deaths while driving or if you’ve lost any friends while behind the wheel, you’ll learn that often it is because they are being distracted in some way. It literally just takes a second of your eyes off the road at the right moment for a crash to occur. It might just be a fender bender or it could end up in the loss of life. It just isn’t worth it.

As a teen driver, learn to keep your eyes on the road. Don’t be distracted by anything. Keep track of everything going on around you. Stay safe and come home safe and sound to your family.


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