A Learner-Centred Approach to Driving Instruction

Posted on 15 June 2017

I regularly talk about the need to carefully dot the I
's and cross the T's when preparing learners to drive; including vehicle controls, moving off and stopping and blind-spot checks. I also believe adopting a learner-centred strategy is beneficial from the outset and can be observed throughout the entire process.

Traditional driving instruction is just that, instruction; and in the context of safety it's certainly necessary - occasionally however, I believe it can also be counterproductive. A novice driver may become tangled up when steering or incorrectly position the vehicle and it's often attributed to such things as wrong technique and poor spatial awareness. The reality is it's often the result of over-instruction promoting over-thinking. Are twelve month old babies provided with step-by-step instructions on how to walk? Are people taught to be spatially aware when walking through busy shopping centres – or do they naturally steer themselves into open spaces? We sometimes need to remember that learner drivers possess at least sixteen years of life experience that they can call on.

It's possibly my counselling training that influences my learner-centred approach, however I'm confident all supervising drivers can utilise similar principals to support their learner's driving development.

The following is an example of a collaborative learner-centred approach:

Supervising Driver (SD): What would you like to work on today?

Learner Driver (LD): Maybe some lane-changing?

SD: So, what do you know about lane-changing?

LD: I know it looks scary.

SD: What makes it scary?

LD: Knowing when it's safe to change without getting in the way of other drivers.

SD: What do you think may help you make a safe lane change?

LD: Check my mirrors?

SD: Yes, definitely. Apart from checking mirrors, would there be anything else?

LD: Yeah, Indicating.

SD: Absolutely. How long would you need to indicate?

LD: I'm not sure.

SD: Well, you already know it's to signal your intention to other road users - So, how long feels appropriate to you?

LD: Well, it may depend on the speed we are travelling, but it would have to be at least three seconds - maybe more?

SD: Okay then; sounds good.

SD: So, we've got mirrors and blinkers - anything else?

LD: Not that I can think of.

SD: So then, just like when you move away from the kerb you will be indicating and checking your mirrors - is that right?

LD: Yeah - oh, and a head-check for the blind-spot?

SD: Absolutely. As you know, side mirrors don't show us everything.

SD: Okay then, so you have a head-check, mirrors and blinkers. What order will you be doing those three things in?

LD: Well the head-check would come last - just like when moving away from the kerb. And I suppose it doesn't make sense to indicate if I haven't checked the mirrors for a safe gap first.

SD: So if we start with a right lane-change, you're saying you will check mirrors first and if there appears to be a safe gap to change you will indicate for about three seconds, check your rear-vision mirror, right-side mirror and do a right blind-spot check before moving into the right lane?

LD: Yeah, I guess so.

SD: Would it be helpful if we swap over and I do a couple just the way you have planned so that you can see how it looks?

LD: That would be good.

SD: (Whilst driving) When I change lanes should I do it suddenly or glide in progressively?

LD: I reckon it shouldn't be too sharp - more smoothly; so gliding I suppose.

SD: Well, too sudden could certainly affect our control of the vehicle - especially at higher speeds.

SD: Do you think the vehicle behind may catch up quickly if I ease my foot off the accelerator pedal or brake when changing lanes?

LD: Yeah, because they probably wouldn't be expecting you to slow down.

SD: Great - so I'm going to keep my speed through the lane-change and maintain the gap between us and the vehicle behind.

After conducting a few practice lane-changes, reviewing, and swapping seats :-

SD: Is there anything you need from me while you're practising some lane-changing?

LD: Can you tell me when it's safe to change?

SD: How about you go through your process and just before you think it's clear to change say "Now?" and if I don't say "No" – you will immediately proceed? That way, you have a safety net but still get to develop your situational awareness and decision making?

LD: Okay.

After practising new skills, it's usually helpful to pull over for a quick review. What did you do? What may you do differently next time?

It remains incumbent upon us parents and supervising drivers to provide a safe environment and appropriate conditions that encourages deep learning. Ideally, we don't want them to passively receive information; we want them to CREATE knowledge.

P.S. If there are any topics you would like me to cover feel free to let me know via the Comments or Contact Page.

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