Learning Curve

February 5, 2016 4:59 am Published by

Learning to drive can be a challenge, we all had to do it, at one stage we knew absolutely nothing about driving apart from maybe watching mum and dad do it from the back seat. But that is very different from actually getting behind the wheel yourself for the very first time. As an experienced driver with more than 26 years of road driving up my sleeve I had actually forgotten how hard it was to drive for the very first time. You see hours and hours of driving behind the wheel has made me operate on a subconscious level for the majority of everyday driving tasks.

I no longer think about how much steering input I make, or how much throttle and brake inputs I am applying; this is largely done now by my subconscious or as I like to refer to it as ‘auto pilot’. I bet you too find this! With most states now requiring learner drivers to attain 120 hours of driving alongside an experienced driver before they are even eligible to try to pass the test, many parents find themselves in the learner driver-coaching zone with their kids.

Now even though I am the business development director for Ian Luff Motivation Australia, one of the most recognised names in driver training, I am not a qualified learner driving instructor. Yes I know defensive/advanced driving practices backwards and have spent many hours behind the wheel of either a race or rally car in my time competing in motor sport. But I am not technically a qualified learner driver instructor.

However I would say that my approach is very similar to how they teach drivers for a living.

Last year my son Jake (now 16) obtained his learner permit and guess what. I am now a parent in the position of ensuring my offspring racks up the hours and learns to drive in a system that is probably less than perfect. Why would I say less than perfect? Let me explain and share some of my trials and tribulations in my new role as head coach for learner driver Jake.

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Firstly he has to never exceed 90km/h even in an 110km/h zone (used to be 80, but Ian Luff lobbied to change this). The amount of horn blowing, tailgating and driver frustration as the conga line stacks up behind us on these trips is excruciatingly painful. Not to mention this makes any longer distance trip, well, longer. For instance if we head down to the south coast, a trip that would normally take 3hours or less now takes 4.5. Fatigue anyone? Well of course he doesn’t drive the whole way, but as the coach, you are practically driving too. So when junior gets out and says “dad I have had enough can you take over?”, you now have well and truly exceeded the 2 hour stop revive, survive recommendation.

Secondly if anyone else plays a role in teaching your learner, you better believe that they will have a different opinion than you on what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Why? Because, as experienced drivers we all got tested at presumably age 17, and most have never been re-educated or tested since. Is it possible that during those years, we could have developed preconceived ideas about driving? Or developed bad habits? Or plain and simply, newer, better techniques have done away with older ones?

This happened when a well intentioned person tried to tell Jake that you could hold your mobile phone while stopped at traffic lights, or that when entering a two lane road you could do so into what ever lane you liked (not just the inside lane), or that the side mirrors needed to see the side of the car. Not only did this experienced other driver not know the road rules, they also had out-dated ideas relating to driving. They then tried to impart these onto a new learner, Jake!

Luckily for me, Jake is a strong willed young chap who can and does stand up for himself and he argued the point that they were actually wrong. But this particular person couldn’t accept this difference of opinion and needed verification. Step in Scott Bucton, Ian Luff Safer Driving Academy highly experienced learner driver coach and safer driver course accredited trainer. This well intentioned driver needed to have these ideas verified, so Jake asked Scotty, low and behold Scott verified that good old dad was correct (funny that). Leaving the other driver to comment “well that is a stupid rule”.

My point is, we have learner drivers being taught by parents who for all intents and purposes mean well, but are they teaching well? What does this do to a learner driver who then needs to respect mum or dad and take their instruction as gospel? In my opinion it is far from ideal.

The role is tough on parents, not only is junior in change of your motor vehicle, but they too have your life in their hands. You have no brake pedal, no steering wheel and are largely not in any kind of control. You are also not likely trained to be a driving coach. Yet this inexperienced youngster has to make decisions they are yet to fully understand all while you are trying to remain calm.

Out on the road Jake has had a few hold your breath moments, I made it very clear to him that if I ever yelled STOP, he was to do that. Entering a roundabout recently, traffic was a little frantic, a lot was going on, with two lanes entering the intersection and a truck on our right. The truck was moving into the roundabout and Jake looked over to his right and saw a taxi that appeared to be going straight on. He turned his head back to look forward (as he should), but I ever watchful in the passengers seat kept looking right. Low and behold the taxis right indicator came on and he was now coming our way.

Just as this happened the truck stopped, blocking our side view to the right, but I knew the taxi was now coming our way.

Jake however was thinking the taxi was going straight and there was no danger, he started to accelerate (thankfully gently), I chimed in to STOP!

He hesitated and I yelled STOP again. Thankfully on went the brake and as the nose of our car dipped down and we stopped. The taxi then flashed past the front of our vehicle with plenty of room to spare. Jake exclaiming I looked and he didn’t have an indicator on… but my experience knew this was a potential danger. Had he not stopped we would have t boned the cabbie!

Now this could have been a very different outcome, if I was not paying attention helping my son who still has less than 45 hours of driving experience. How many parents do you see head down on their phone while junior is driving? (that is illegal by the way). Or doing something other than paying attention? It does happen, parents can either be too tough on their learners or too inattentive on the job at hand. My rule of thumb is, if Jake is driving and I am coaching, I am driving too!

My advice is to set the ground rules early, clear commands as a driver coach is very important, the most valued being STOP. Talk to your learner driver all the time too, understand what they see or don’t see.

It is a tough ask to teach a person to drive, we forget how simply steering the vehicle is a challenge and menial tasks like turning the car around suddenly become hard. We started out in a quiet car park, just getting the controls down pat, slow speed turning, getting the hand positioning and steering inputs right first. Never take a fresh driver straight out into traffic, you will be asking for trouble.

Jake is progressing well, he is learning from his mistakes and gaining experience. Remember even P Plate drivers don’t have the experience of a fully licensed driver, no matter how good they think they are. That gut feeling you get when something seems wrong, is your experience telling you, remember your learner doesn’t have that. Also remember most provisional drivers don’t have that either. This is in our opinion why so many young people crash, it is inexperience that is the biggest killer and it really needs to be addressed.

Jake will do our safer drivers course for learner drivers as soon as possible (minimum 50 hours), then our p plate defensive driving course when he has his license. You can never learn enough about driving and even experienced drivers will learn something from our defensive driving program.

Why not complete our defensive driving program yourself if you are about to start teaching a learner driver? Brush up on the rules too, ensure your competency is good before you try and teach someone else. Because what you input into your leaner will result in their output as a driver.

Ask yourself this one question; what kind of driver do I want my child to be? If the answer is anything less than good and safe then perhaps you need to have a think about your priorities. So why not do what you can to ensure they end up that way.

I hope my experience has struck a cord with you and if you find yourself as a learner driver coach, remember stay calm and stay in control.

 

Stewart Nicholls

Business Development Director

Ian Luff Motivation Australia

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