Teaching a new driver

Earlier this week, I spent a couple of hours visiting with an old friend that I used to race autocross with.  As we were chatting the subject of the newest driver in my house came up.  We chatted about teaching her to drive for a bit, before moving on to other topics, but it sparked a thought process that I spent the next two days gnawing on.

Here I am, teaching a new driver what it means to drive, but have I really thought about everything I do when driving and riding?  The short answer is no.  Until that conversation, I really hadn't taken the time to break it down.

So I decided to break down what I do into words.   Bear in mind, that I am not a highly trained driver or rider.  I've taken the BRC.  I've taken a couple of defensive driving classes when I was younger.  I've taken a couple race driving clinics.  That pretty much covers it.  The rest I either learned from my older brother who largely taught me to ride and drive both, or learned by experience.  As an exercise, documenting what I do is interesting, because there are things that I've been doing so much that until I stood back and paid attention, I did not even think about them.

(A) Approaching the vehicle

As I approach the vehicle to commence a ride or drive, I am visually scanning the the vehicle and the surroundings for potential safety issues, like nails in the tires, low air pressure in the tires, slick or obstacles in the immediate area of the vehicle.

(B) Beginning the drive

Before starting the vehicle the pre-flight check happens.  Check and adjust the mirrors.  Fasten all the safety equipment (seat belts, helmets etc).  Adjust the driving position.  Perform a last visual scan of the controls and immediate area before ignition.

(C) Commencing the drive

Start the vehicle, listen for any potential audible cues of potential problems, visual scan of the area and engage the transmission.

(D) Drive

This is the hard part, because it encompasses so many things, and the steering, throttle and brakes make up such a tiny part of the whole that it is borderline laughable.  That realization is one that makes me realize the disservice we do new drivers by not putting them in gokarts and such at a young age, so these actions are second nature before we put them on the roads.

(E) Examine the Environment

While driving, this is the most important aspect of what we do.  It is something we cannot do while talking on the phone, playing with the stereo or applying makeup.  The entire time we are in the driver's seat, the driver must be constantly examining the environment around them.  There are three purposes to this examination. First is path assessment, eg, where are you going.  Second is threat assessment, eg, what could potentially impact where you are going.  Third is emergency planning, eg, where can you go / what can you do if a threat impacts your path.

Path Assessment is really the easy part of the three, but if this is all you do, it becomes tunnel vision of staying between the lines and not seeing anything else.  This is the typical behavior of distracted driver.  They are are so focused on maintaing their path, that they cannot address the other parts of the equation. 

Threat Assessment is the beginning of defensive driving, and deserves an entire book an strategies all to itself. In my own case, threat assessment starts with the eyes, ears and body.  The eyes are constantly moving,  scanning in a consistent pattern.  Long range path assessment, left side at range, left side near proximity, left rear view mirror, left blind spot (headcheck), right blind spot (headcheck), right rear view mirror, right side near proximity, right side at range, long range path assessment, rear view if available, repeat.  Two things to keep in mind, the peripheral vision is always at work filling in the gaps, but keeping the head on  swivel means that the eyes are constantly taking in and cataloging as many threats as possible.  The entire time the ears are listening for warning signs like revving engines, vibrating tires on passing cars, sirens, children, animals, etc. 

All of this leads to the last part, the truly defensive part of Defensive Driving:  Emergency Planning.   It all starts with one question:  if threat <insert catalogued threat> does <insert threatening action> where/what is my best course of action to a safe conclusion.  Knowing the answer ( and having the skill to execute on, or foresight to simply prepare and prevent the situation  ) to the above question is the difference drivers that arrive at a destination telling about the harrowing drive and escapes and the ones that arrive at the destination happy and having experienced none of those moments. 

Dealing with threats is a three fold process itself.  First, you have to identify the threats, then you have to address them either by waiting for them to become an issue and then dealing with them, or by my preferred method, diffusing the threat before it becomes an issue.

Removing yourself from the threat equation is, in my experience, the single greatest tool we have in our arsenal of safe driving weapons.  Liberal usage is my motto.  If you have are consistently identifying threats, you can consistently diffuse most before they elevate into conflicts. 

Let's take as example:

The 'left turner' is easily the most common incident.    We always hear about how the left turner didn't see the threat.   This is a two way street ( no pun intended ).  The left turner didn't see the oncoming vehicle, but the oncoming vehicle has an equal obligation and opportunity to prevent the problem, by simply slowing and providing the left turner a clear space to make their turn.

If you are the left turner, could you have avoided the risk by simply traveling to a better or safer place to turn.  Perhaps even pre-planning your route to avoid a known dangerous left turn?  I do this last on a daily basis.  The shortest route from work to home involves an intersection with a limited visibility left turn from a moderately busy 2 lane road onto a heavily traveled 2 lane road with a 45mph speed limit (normally travelled at 55-60) followed by an immediate right turn less than 250ft from the left turn.  Rather than risk that intersection, I generally use a slightly longer (about .5 miles) route. 

None of this can happen, if you, as the driver are not constantly looking for and understanding the threats to your safety all while managing the act of driving the vehicle.  

Now to try and get a 15 year old girl with no mechanical aptitude and a myopic view of how things are to grasp this.  I think I need some aspirin now.

Content by dru_satori, edited on a Mac using SandVox (because I'm lazy)