Winter school break presented a terrific opportunity to schedule driving time with your teen. Since they were not in school (either in-person or remotely) there was more time for the two of you to plan car trips that will boost your young driver’s skills and confidence. In addition, the roads tend to be less crowded, allowing more chances to teach situational driving without your teen being overwhelmed.
The Sunday after Christmas, my son and I took advantage of these conditions and engaged in a ten-mile drive that afforded him the chance to practice operating my Corolla along two-lane state roads that posed a host of challenges, including:
Rotaries (traffic circles)--To drive in Massachusetts, one must encounter the dreaded Rotary. There were two of these on our Sunday trip, and I instructed my son to follow the rules put forth in the Massachusetts Drivers’ Manual. The most important lesson is that the driver already in the rotary has the right of way. When approaching the traffic circle, my son adhered to the “yield” signs and was careful not to proceed until he had a clear path. Still, he noted, it is difficult to judge which vehicles are exiting and which ones might be circling in front of you.
Multiple traffic lights within a short distance--Knowing when and how hard to brake for a yellow light is a talent experienced drivers take for granted. However, when you are driving your dad’s car at the speed limit (40 or 45 mph depending on the signage) it can be difficult to gauge when to hit the brake. I told my son that it’s okay to stop a couple of feet before the stop line when learning to drive, as it’s much better than not stopping soon enough. I also reminded him to check his rear-view mirror when the light turns yellow to make sure there isn’t a car behind him planning to accelerate, as sometimes occurs in our part of the world. My son also is trying to get used to the frustration that occurs when you accelerate at a light after it turns green, only to have to stop for another red light a few hundred yards ahead.
Flashing yellow lights--This was one that I had to explain carefully. My son was driving on a two-lane highway when he came upon a flashing yellow light, with cross traffic having a light that flashed red. I reminded him that he had the right of way, as yellow means “slow down and proceed with caution,” but was careful to add, “however, the person with the red light might not remember that they are required to stop.” Therefore, the “proceed with caution” instruction is always extra pivotal in these instances.
In addition to all of the above, state road driving gives inexperienced operators valuable experience in navigating everyday potential hazards. These include slowing down and, when possible, navigating around vehicles in front of you that are trying to make left-hand turns.
My son also noticed that a key part of driving is, as he put it, “watching out for the other guy,” whether they are entering or leaving the roadway, or stopped at a traffic light ahead that has just turned green. And truly, if we all watch out for the other guy, we will all have a safer experience on the roads, no matter how long we’ve been driving.
As my son returns to school, the date for his eligibility to take his license exam draws closer. We have a couple more driving skills to focus on before he sets his appointment with the Registry. These will include a turn on the interstate, and perhaps practicing his driving in the rain, should the opportunity present itself. Through it all, I will consult The Parent’s Supervised Driving Program guidebook, as well as the state driving manual, because someday soon my son will be driving a car without my presence. And I will have to trust that he’s learned everything he needs to be safe.
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