Anticipation vs Reaction

Posted on 13 March 2021

One kilogram of anticipation is far more valuable than a tonne of reaction.

If we, as road users, are unable to perceive a potential threat, what degree of influence are we likely to have on the outcome? I suspect we could all agree that it's far less stressful whenever we predict a threat rather than suddenly react to one. After all, when watching a suspense thriller the popcorn always has a much better chance of staying in its container when we can clearly see the bad guy coming. When we experience the emotion of surprise as a driver, it is evidence of system failure at some level. Whenever we find ourselves surprised by another road user we should reflect on where our attention was in those few seconds prior. Surprises steal our thinking time and rush our decision making.

Threats to our crash avoidance space don't always develop independently. Sometimes multiple potential hazards occur all at once. Like a diligent triage nurse, a good driver will determine their order of attention. It's important to not only identify the obvious threats; we must also scan for indirect ones. For example; if driver "A" has their crash avoidance space compromised by driver "B" – driver "A" may pose a potential threat to you.

Drivers that have a reactive mind-set rather than an anticipatory one can be easily spotted by their rushed decisions and actions. They will often be braking more frequently and heavily. They may notice a cyclist up ahead but not necessarily the obstacle that is twenty metres ahead of that rider. A road user with a predicting approach to driving will anticipate the cyclist shifting their position around about the same time they will pass them and check their mirrors and adjust speed accordingly. Likewise, drivers who are regularly anticipating outcomes wouldn't simply see a stationary bus in the left lane fifty metres ahead, they would probably also notice the last passenger get on and begin to slow down in advance of the bus signalling to move to its right.

Most multi-vehicle crashes occur on straight roads. Many motorists continually drive directly in line with the vehicle in front, whereas a more inquisitive driver will slightly reposition their vehicle to see further ahead. They're aware that when a road has a slight bend it generally provides clearer visibility of what lies ahead. When anticipating that a vehicle near the kerb or at a side street may be about to move off, a conscientious road user recognises that a quick glance at the vehicle's tyres will enable them to detect the slightest of movement as well as the intended direction of travel.

It's important when driving to appear predictable to other road users whilst understanding that others are often unpredictable. By always scanning as far into the distance as we can comfortably see we are being proactive rather than reactive. Remember that we also have peripheral vision, which for most people is slightly in excess of 180 degrees – so we don't need to be looking directly at an object to be aware of its presence. Considering it takes more than one object to create a collision we all have a great opportunity as drivers to avoid ever being involved in one.

Teach Them Young

Posted on 11 February 2020

We typically don't wait until our kids are almost old enough to visit a beach independently with their friends before commencing swimming education. So why do so many wait until that stage before commencing driver education?

Parents spend countless hours sitting inside their mobile metal boxes with their children. Every one of those hours provides learning opportunities. Skill and knowledge alone generally won't sufficiently compensate a novice driver who has developed within a culture devoid of self-awareness practices and low-risk driving values. Should our children's driver education begin when they become a legally permitted learner driver - or should it begin much earlier than that?

From age 13, why not get them to sit next to you in the passenger seat whilst you're driving so that they may observe the driving scene? To keep them engaged, consider placing a detachable rear-view mirror on their side of the windscreen so that they can become comfortable in using it.

At age 12, why not introduce them to the concept of blind-spots and visual block-outs? Walk around the outside of the car with them in the driver's seat and ask them to observe you through the mirrors and tell you to stop once they can no longer see you. Demonstrate how to adjust the seat, including the head restraint, and steering wheel for optimal posture; and how to grip the steering wheel.

At age 11, why not walk them through the entire vehicle? Demonstrate how to correctly position mirrors and operate various controls such as - pedals, indicators, windscreen-wipers, lights, demisters and park-brake. Explain the easily forgotten features such as the night mode on the internal rear view mirror that reduces glare from the headlights of vehicles travelling behind.

At age 10, why not introduce them to scanning principals? Visit a crowded shopping centre and ask them to walk around for five minutes whilst just looking at the shopper immediately in front of them. Then ask them to walk around for five minutes whilst looking forty metres into the distance. Ask them to describe the difference. Take five minutes to sit and watch other people walk around - observing the different styles. Which people have to keep slowing down and stopping (braking)? Which people keep bumping into others (crashing)? What's happening to the shoppers who are looking at the floor, their phone, or friend whilst walking? Another effective exercise is to ask them to hold the palm of their hand one inch in front of their face and then move it to five inches to see the difference it makes to their field of vision.

At age 9, why not advise them what different regulatory and cautionary road signs mean whilst you're driving?

At age 8, why not play some driving games with them? Challenge them to be a detective and look for such things as parked vehicles with front wheels turned outward; a driver behind the steering wheel; turn signals and/or brake lights on. When travelling near schools and sporting fields why not ask them to look low in-between and underneath parked vehicles, for feet and rolling balls; etc. Ask them to describe what they can see reflected in the windows of buildings and panels of parked vehicles when at intersections.

At age 7, why not ask them to spot drivers on their phone, tailgating, running a red light or driving distracted?

How much self-awareness do we possess as parents and guardians – are we driving in a way that we would be comfortable seeing our sons and daughters drive? What behaviours are we currently modelling to our biggest fans?

A novice driver's road user culture is not developed exclusively via their experiences as a learner or provisional driver. Rather, it's underpinned by at least a decade's worth of various modelling, motivations and values.

Supervising Learners without the Surprises

Posted on 24 January 2020

Most people would probably agree that supervising a learner driver can be a challenging experience. The good news is much of the anxiety can be greatly reduced by simply minimising surprises.
1. We are unconsciously competent drivers

2. We are unconsciously incompetent supervisors

We parents and other experienced drivers generally make way too many assumptions regarding what our teenagers understand about cars or how to drive them. We assume that after sitting in the rear-seat of our shiny metal boxes for a couple of hundred thousand kilometres they would have surely picked up most of the 'obvious' stuff. In reality, asides from clicking save on ALL your bad habits, very little else was likely noticed – including all your good habits.

When it comes to supervising learner drivers, the majority of us are inherently disadvantaged by two factors:

After driving for so many years, the physical action of controlling a vehicle is largely performed on auto-pilot – meaning we are almost competently carrying out the task without thinking about it. It has become SO effortless for us that we're unaware of how unrealistic it is to assume our learners should know it. Learner drivers, when they first begin, are largely unconsciously incompetent drivers and it's for that reason we must be aware of not only our own competency as a driver, but more so, our level of competency as a supervisor or coach.

If we plan to supervise someone else's driving we really should audit our own driving behaviours first – because we tend to acquire many habits over decades, both good and bad. We could all benefit from reacquainting ourselves with changing road rules and regulations. Why not try the RMS online practice knowledge test? After all, the last time most of us sat such a test, petrol cost around 50cents a litre. There is no quicker way to lose credibility with your learner than to have them teach you the rules or observe you doing the opposite of what you expect from them.

Before commencing any supervised driving it's so very important to sit down with your learner and any others who may be sharing their supervision, to develop a plan of action. Some items that should be covered in the plan include:

* Who is going to supervise the driving, and the time, duration and frequency of drives? Will there be anyone in the back-seat, and if so, what is their role and responsibilities?

* Compartmentalising family/relationship dynamics during drives.

* Ground rules surrounding radio/music, GPS and mobile phone use for learner AND supervisor.

* What to do in the event of a meltdown an upset occurring (Eg: Pull over when safe, turn off the engine, breathe, constructively unpack what just occurred and agree on a way forward).

* Logbook management.

* If and when to access professional lessons.

* Reasons for postponing a drive (Eg: Feeling unwell or tired, weather, mood and life's happenings).

The more surprises you can avoid inside a car the happier everyone will be. Some steps you can take, in no particular order, to keep anxiety levels to a dull roar include:

* Introduce your learner to the concept of blind-spots and visual block-outs by walking around the outside of the car with them in the driver's seat - asking them to observe you through the mirrors and tell you to stop once they can no longer see you.

* Inform them what different regulatory and cautionary signs mean– (the L's test makes it relatively easy to memorise pictures following repetitive online test practice over several days, but not necessarily long-term meaning). Keep a copy of the Road Users' Handbook in the glove-box.

* Position a detachable mirror on the passenger side of the windscreen.

* Demonstrate how to adjust the seat and steering wheel for optimal posture and how to grip the steering wheel.

* Show them how to correctly set-up the mirrors. If the car has convex side mirrors it's important to explain that unlike flat mirrors, vehicles appear to be further away than they actually are. Explain often overlooked features such as the night mode on the internal mirror that reduces glare from the headlights of vehicles travelling behind.

* Demonstrate how to operate the various controls such as - pedals, indicators, windscreen-wipers, lights, demisters and park-brake whilst stationary.

* Practice taking the steering wheel with one hand from the passenger's seat with an experienced driver in the driver's seat, in a quiet controlled area – because more than likely you will need to do it with your learner driver. Advise your learner in advance that you may need to do it and that it's quite normal in the early stages whilst their spatial perception is developing.

* In the early stages, do a 'commentary drive' of new routes yourself so that your learner can visualise what he or she will be doing beforehand. Always check-in with them to see if they have any questions or concerns before increasing the degree of difficulty.

* Pull-over and park when safe to discuss any matters that require considerable thought to avoid cognitive distractions.

* To avoid confusion, when replying to your learner, don't say "right" say "correct".

* Provide clear and early communication and directions - both verbal and non-verbal. Don't be vague like "slow down" or "drive slowly" – say "press the brake pedal" and "drive at 40 kilometres per hour." Comments such as "be careful" and "watch out" are not specific enough. Say "At the roundabout, turn left" rather than "Turn left, at the roundabout".

* Rather than trying to guess your learner's thought process ask them questions such as "Is there enough space to proceed, or are you planning to let the red car go first?" – Or you could invite them to do a running commentary as they drive; for example: "I think I will maintain this speed at the roundabout because that red car is far enough away from me".

* Commence lessons in quiet locations such as: car-parks and industrial areas; at non-busy times; in good weather conditions. Avoid night drives in the early stages. Always select an environment, time and traffic situation that matches your learner's level of competency.

At the completion of each journey take a few moments to recover review. It can be highly valuable to ask your learner constructive open-ended questions about the drive. What were they satisfied with and were there any aspects they found challenging? This will help develop their awareness and stimulate learning from within, as well as assist in establishing goals for future drives.

Safe travels, and remember to always plan ahead and save the surprises for birthdays.


Posted on 01 July 2019

Who or what do I not want to impact in a negative way as a result of THIS DRIVE? That is the question I answer before sending fuel to my Mazda engine – the answer helps shape my mind-set. I have ever-so-slowly come to appreciate the need for total AWARENESS when operating a tonne of aluminium and steel at speeds I wasn't biologically intended to travel at. I've also come to understand our actions are essentially motivated by whatever it is we CARE about. Greater the care factor, greater the motivation.

When we brush our teeth we're generally not in a state of focus or awareness, we are operating on auto-pilot. More technically, we're flowing in a state of unconscious competence. On our first day in the driver's seat with our L plates precariously attached, we are UNCONSCIOUSLY INCOMPETENT, simply meaning we don't know what we don't know. Soon enough we become CONSCIOUSLY INCOMPETENT – we're now at least aware of what we don't know. Following hours of supervised driving we develop into a CONSCIOUSLY COMPETENT motorist able to drive independently and safely provided we remain focused and aware. This group are the lowest risk drivers on our roads and is, in part, the reason why L-Platers are relatively under-represented in crashes. The overwhelming majority of vehicle crashes involve road users who are driving in an UNCONSCIOUSLY COMPETENT state – just like when brushing their teeth, muscle memory has kicked in and they're operating on auto-pilot. Via repetition the task has become easy, so much so, they 'multi-task' – both cognitively and physically. Sound familiar? Well it should – it's the modus operandi of nearly every driver on our roads today.

Talk to any first responder and they will likely tell you the first words they often hear at a crash scene is 'I didn't see him' or 'He came from nowhere'. The vehicle clearly occupied a space somewhere prior to the collision - even if others weren't aware of it. A consciously competent driver is SITUATIONALLY AWARE of the ever-changing scene. They scan as far ahead as they can comfortably see; their eyes are continually scanning across their field of vision, including mirrors. They perceive critical developments using all available senses so that they have time to process what the development actually means and to anticipate what will soon happen. They are looking, assessing, deciding and acting – not just to the front; they also know their vehicle's blind-spots. The following distance of the driver behind will influence their own following distance from the vehicle in front and their braking. They're often discovering clues such as a subtle drift within a lane, a change of speed, the angle of front wheels and distracted road users.

A consciously competent driver is HAZARD AWARE. You would be forgiven for believing hazard perception is a function that becomes automatic for an experienced driver like me courtesy of my training and broader knowledge of traffic situations – regardless of secondary task demands. The reality is however, unlike my brain's procedural memory that enables me to become unconsciously competent in operating a motor vehicle or brushing my teeth, effective hazard perception is a proactive process that demands a central executive cognitive effort. Most people understand a hazard to be a possible source of danger that may enter their space – so their plan of action is to understandably spot the threat early enough to take the necessary evasive action. What most people don't understand is their brain sacrifices areas important for visual attention and alertness to recruit enough resources to perform a secondary cognitive task such as holding a conversation. The only shortfall I can see with current day driving hazard perception tests is they are performed in isolation on a computer screen and not whilst an individual is undertaking a secondary task like .. well, driving a car and having a conversation.

A consciously competent driver is SELF AWARE and understands that if their cognitions and attitudes are off, no amount of manoeuvring skills will be enough on their own to achieve a safe outcome. They become aware when they are externally or mindfully distracted and take necessary measures to bring themselves back to the task of driving – such as conducting a silent 'commentary' of what they see developing around them. An individual who is aware of their ego or personal control challenges has an opportunity to react to a near-miss by saying – 'perhaps if I were scanning further I would have braked earlier' – rather than leaning on the horn and getting personal with a total stranger. Somewhat phenomenally, most people over estimate their own driving ability whilst being overly critical of others. I expect it's largely due to the fact there is no universal definition for 'Good Driving'. What one individual will tell you to prove they are a good driver, another will use as evidence to prove that's not the case.

If you've ever spoken to someone thirty minutes after they passed a driving test they very likely were not only able to rattle off every set of traffic lights they passed along the way but also the colour of the vehicles around them at the time. Why such vigilance – why so conscious -- so AWARE? We all know the answer – they simply CARED so much about the outcome of THAT DRIVE nothing else mattered. If we all exercised the same care we displayed to pass our driving test during ALL our drives, our emergency service workers, hospitals and cemeteries would undoubtedly have far fewer customers. Next time you're about to buckle up why not take a moment to consider what or who it is you CARE enough about to drive aware?


Test Day

Posted on 01 March 2018

Nerves and the driving test go hand-in-hand. Realistically, the main reason we get nervous on test day is because the outcome means a great deal to us -- that being the case, telling people not to worry, won't help. And of course, nerves don't have to be debilitating – they can actually help keep us focused.

As with any test, preparedness helps build confidence and alleviate nerves. Your hard work in conjunction with the support of your driving supervisor/instructor will have hopefully prepared you well in terms of your driving ability. The aim of this article is to provide learners with 'Test Day' insights into the New South Wales driving test – insights that will ideally further increase confidence and reduce butterflies.

About the New South Wales Driving Test

Five separate assessments are made within each of 25 predetermined zones travelled.All (5) key performance areas are assessed on a continual basis throughout each zone. In addition to the 25 zones, learners are required to complete a kerbside stop and one other manoeuvre - a 3-point-turn, reverse-parallel-park, or a bay-park. The (5) key performance items are:-

1. Speed Management

2. Road Positioning

3. Decision Making

4. Responding to Hazards

5. Vehicle Controls

The test officially commences when you sign the score sheet. A non-roadworthy vehicle results in test termination without refund (ensure all brake and indicator lights are working). A minimum score of 90% and NO Fail Items is a pass. If a Fail Item is recorded, the test continues so that you may receive a full assessment. You are not advised of a fail during the test.

A Licence Application Form must be completed before the driving test commences -

- At Service NSW Centres it's a green form marked as Form 1001 on the bottom right of page 4.

Sign and date ALL 20 learning goals in the coloured section at the front of your logbook. The Declaration of Completion page needs to be signature certified by a parent/guardian or whoever has undertaken the majority of logbook entries. You, as the learner driver also need to sign-off on this declaration page.

About the Testing Officer (Examiner)

Many people feel awkward when it comes to silences. Try not to over analyse silences during the test. The environment may sometimes feel somewhat sterile; however the testing officer simply doesn't wish to distract you with any unnecessary information.

After the testing officer walks around the outside of your vehicle and checks that all brake and indicator lights are working, and they are seated, they will say something like: "We will be going for a short drive. I will be giving you directions when to turn. We will be doing two manoeuvres, a kerb side stop, and ... (a reverse park / three-point turn / angle park). If you have any questions please ask now, if you are not sure during the test what I have said, please ask for clarification. "Are you ready to commence driving?"

Resist the urge to look at what the testing officer is writing during the test. They have at least 150 boxes to mark off regardless – so if they are writing, it doesn't necessarily mean you have done something wrong.

At the completion of your drive, the testing officer is not authorised to advise you how you went – so don't panic when they walk back into the service centre without saying anything. Once they have completed the score sheet, they will call you up to the counter to advise your result and provide feedback.

About You (The Learner)


Do your best to get a good night's sleep.

Try to have something to eat.

Stay hydrated.

Try to explore the test centre carpark and the exit area PRIOR to test day.

Try to have a 'warm-up' drive before your test.

Arrive at the test centre 10-15 minutes prior to the scheduled test – don't rush.

Breathe. Try breathing in for 3 seconds and out for 6 seconds.

Smile. It doesn't matter if the testing officer doesn't know how to.

Turn off your mobile phone.

If you didn't clearly hear the testing officer's direction, ask them to repeat it.

If you make an error, don't panic. Not all errors are fail items.

Remember, if unsuccessful, you're eligible to reattempt the test in 7 days!

Preparing Your Learner for the Road Warriors

Posted on 01 February 2018

I believe most road users don't stereotype and judge learner drivers solely by their L-Plates, however I do wonder if such ignorance is becoming a little too familiar.

Whilst parents and other supervisors can't usually influence a fellow road user's behaviour toward their novice driver, they can explore effective ways to interact with them. L-Platers, we know, are regularly judged – so it's only fair that we view the following drivers through a somewhat cheeky stereotypical lens.

Tailgating Tom – Our first 'Road Warrior' sits about 1.2 nanoseconds behind the vehicle in front. He likes to intimidate other drivers into changing lanes so that he can speed away without being inconvenienced. Quite often, at the precise moment you find a safe gap to change lanes, Tom will also decide to change and nearly crash into you. He will then decide whether to flash his lights, sound the horn, physically gesture, or combine all three as he speeds off to restart the process with another unsuspecting road user. Tom is the single leading cause of crashes on our roads today. If your learner is being tailgated advise them to increase the following distance from the vehicle ahead to minimise the risk of sudden stopping. If possible, change lanes (be sure to indicate for at least 3 seconds before altering speed or position). Advise your novice that not all drivers tailgate to intimidate like Tom – for some it's simply their 'normal' – others may misjudge your speed through distraction and eventually set up an appropriate crash avoidance space.

Angry Angus – Whatever you do don't get Angus, angry - you won't like him when he's angry. Sometimes he is angry with a passenger, other times it's with someone on the phone. Occasionally it is because you had the audacity to stop at a yellow light. Don't make eye contact with him under any circumstances - he doesn't like it. Sometimes he gets so angry he can't even remember why he's angry. The angrier Angus gets, the more distracted and dangerous he becomes. This guy invented Road-Rage - who would've thought - Angus is a trailblazer! Advise your learner to never buy into a stranger's world whilst controlling a tonne and half of steel and metal. There is nothing to be gained by watching an adult throw a tantrum that a 3 year-old would be ashamed of. Sometimes it's a case of a good driver having a bad day – either way, stay out of it.

Red-Light Lisa – Lisa NEVER stops for a yellow light and as a result occasionally plays T-Bone roulette at red traffic lights. When police issue her with a $439 ticket and 3 demerit points for unnecessarily driving through a yellow light she is genuinely perplexed. Entering an intersection with Lethal Lisa at the crossroad reminds me of the famous line from the movie, Dirty Harry: 'you've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?- Well, do you, punk?' Advise your learner to ALWAYS look left and right before moving off at a green light – especially if in the first row of traffic.

Speeding Sam – If Sam were a spider he would probably be a Black Widow or Funnel Web. Even young children are bemused when Sam floors it every time the traffic lights turn green - only to get passed by mum at the next red light. I worry that Sam may speed off on the green one day when 'Red-Light Lisa' is performing her party trick at the cross-road. Advise your learner to drive in the left lane whenever possible; Sam owns the right lane.

Texting Tina – If Speeding Sam is the Black Widow of the Arachnida world, Tina would have to be the Great White of the fish family. Tina is generally quite a good driver, however when she becomes distracted by her electronic apparatus she quickly mutates into one of the world's most dangerous road users. Advise your learner that Tina travels 30 metres blindfolded when she looks at her phone for just 2 SECONDS at a speed of 60 km/h.

Lane-Hopper Harry – This unfortunate fellow suffers from the rare affliction - antsus-in-the-pantsus. Harry simply can't stay in a lane for more than ten seconds. The moment he spots a vehicle two lanes away advancing by half a car length he makes a dash for it (signalling optional) - but don't worry, he will be back in front of you before you've had time to blink.

Horn Beeping Betty – If you even dream that you are going to drive within 20 metres of Betty she will honk that horn. If you take longer than a quarter of a second to move once the lights change to green she will flush out your eardrums. Prepare your learner for the reality that many drivers simply love the sound of their own horn. Try not to over-analyse it - remain focused!

As supervising drivers we are ultimately responsible for choosing environments that our learner can cope with. If we select roads and conditions that aren't appropriate for their current driving abilities we will place them in situations where they are regularly challenged by other road users.

Encourage your learner to form a balanced view of fellow road users -- they're not all Road Warriors. Try to recognise those drivers who interact in conscientious and positive ways. Acknowledge the many considerate drivers you encounter with a wave or a smile.

Be the Tortoise and Avoid Rushing the Learning Process

Posted on 01 January 2018

This video reminds me a little of the Tortoise and Hare story and the Driving Instructor Dad has cast himself in the role of the Hare.

It's not only teenagers who get a little giggly and ahead of themselves when they are handed their learner's licence – we mums and dads have also been known to become a little over excited. I recently shared a video of a Dad taking his daughter out for her very first drive and commented that although he made some technical errors, he performed quite well and established a good rapport. This particular Dad is certainly pleasant and reassuring enough, and potentially capable of providing good instruction, however I believe his daughter may have benefited from a more informative and structured approach from the beginning.

To be fair, we possibly should consider that the 'Deep End' approach may not be too uncommon within the rural counties of Texas. I know when I was taught to drive - back when Australia had seven million less humans, I was the recipient of the 'Baptism of Fire' technique and survived ... just. The principal aim of this post is to encourage preparation and structure - especially in the early stages of instruction. Try not to be influenced by those who declare "My son was driving on the highway on his second drive". Some proud parents genuinely believe their teen is driving; however, they're unaware that it's often they who are really driving – from the passenger seat.

The Dad in this video is clearly eager to get his newly permitted daughter out onto the road and to surprise mum with video evidence. In fact, so keen is he that his excitedly scared teen goes from learning to shift the gear lever from park to drive -- to moving a tonne and a half of aluminium and steel at 80 km/h -- all in the space of 60 SECONDS - with her very cheerful younger sister seated at the back for good measure.

It's SO important to cover the early stages of the learning process in small chunks. Granted, it won't be anywhere near as exciting as this teen's first lesson, but it will provide a solid foundation for everything that follows. Admittedly, it may also not be as much fun and I'm certainly not against having some fun whilst learning to drive -- provided it's timely and somewhat measured.

Our Instructor Dad displayed a pleasant reassuring tone and I'm confident he will have improved technically following this first outing. Below are a few basic things he could have done BEFORE his daughter turned the engine on.

  • He could have suggested his daughter ditch the Ugg boots for more appropriate footwear.
  • He could have discussed vehicle controls and practised using them before moving off. Travelling at high speed is not the best time to receive a lesson on indicator location and operation.
  • He could have advised his learner to only use her right foot on the pedals.
  • He could have instructed the driver to adjust her mirrors.
  • He could have first driven or at least advised his daughter where he proposed to drive and what to expect along the way – such as; motorist interaction, travelling speeds, hills, acceleration, braking and turning.
  • He could have discussed and demonstrated steering techniques.
  • He could have discussed blind-spots before moving onto the road.
  • He could have asked his daughter if she had any questions or concerns before moving off.

An effective approach is to discuss, demonstrate, practice and review. Ensure your learner is engaged in the process by asking open-ended questions and allowing them to explore their own way in a safe environment -- These learners typically develop more rounded skills, and ironically quicker than the learner who goes straight out onto a main road with almost every action choreographed from the passenger seat.

Try to make decisions with the end in mind -- Don't be afraid to be the tortoise.

YES, he passed! -- Oh NO ... he passed

Posted on 01 December 2017

Congratulations; you passed – those three simple words change the game for parents and their young drivers in more ways than one. In addition to a significant lack of experience, newly licensed P-Platers face many driving distractions, including: peer passengers, late night fatigue, eating/drinking, grooming, music, satellite navigation and of course, mobile phones.

Testing standards are somewhat challenging; however the examiner has only a relatively short amount of time to assess your teen against key performance criteria. Don't allow your son or daughter's birthday and test result be the ONLY evidence of their readiness to drive unsupervised – trust your parental instincts. Even though they may pass a thirty minute driving test after demonstrating their knowledge of some road rules and an ability to control a vehicle – they still are, and will continue to be for quite some time, a 'novice driver' – in fact, on the day they pass the driving test they will transition from the safest they will ever be behind a steering wheel to statistically, by FAR, the most dangerous 6-12 month period of their driving life.

Some parents associate their teenager passing the driving test with crossing a finish line. The reality is, at this stage, they are closer to a metaphorical start line than a finish line. While a parent's chaperoning duties decrease significantly, their teen's responsibilities skyrocket.

P-Platers possess relatively limited driving ability and judgement, and many teenagers underestimate risk and knowingly engage in risky behaviours – especially males. Their new solo driving status provides them with numerous opportunities - unfortunately one of them is the opportunity for risk.

Does your teenager or their peers possess an appetite for risk-taking in other areas of life? There is international data that shows for every similar aged passenger you add to a vehicle with a teen driver, the chance of a crash incrementally increases. Statistics show that adult drivers however, are at no further risk of crashing when driving with additional peer passengers.

As parents, we generally don't want to hover over our adolescent's every move. We understand that risk-taking is a normal part of their wiring and overall development; however, we can have some control over the odds by managing their 'risk opportunity' during this precarious stage. Graduated licensing schemes have proven to be by far the most effective way to reduce serious young driver crashes. Parents have an opportunity to broaden government provisional licensing regulations. During the first few months consider limiting the amount of teenage passengers they may carry and imposing weather, location, and night driving restrictions.

Discourage 'just cruising with the boys' type journeys during this vulnerable period – it's safer to restrict it to point-to-point trips as greater risk accompanies joyriding. Try to delay them owning their own vehicle. If possible, share the family car - it will enable you to control access to the vehicle and set conditions of its use. Research has shown adolescents tend to exercise more caution when the car isn't theirs. Talk to them about the dangers of driving tired, upset or angry. Discuss Plan B options - let them know that they can always call you.

Delaying novice drivers from owning their own car is not always an option and some parents form the view that it's better for their newbie to drive an older vehicle initially because there's a possibility they will collide with something - so therefore it makes more sense to trash an old jalopy than a new vehicle. Their rationale is sound in that they certainly are statistically FAR more likely to be involved in a crash in the initial 6-12 months of unsupervised driving, however that's the very reason why it's paramount they drive the safest vehicle possible during that time. Once we place safety higher than economics on our list it doesn't take long to realise it makes zero sense for the most vulnerable driver in our family to be driving the most unsafe car in our household. Older vehicles simply don't possess the safety features of their late model contemporaries. Carefully investigate safety ratings and insist on features such as anti-lock braking (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC) and side airbags. Research indicates midsize vehicles, as opposed to small, are generally the safest option for inexperienced drivers.

Finally, your own driving experiences leave you well placed to offer practical assistance to your greenhorn. So, before they drive off unsupervised for the first time ensure you have prepared them for the many variables that aren't generally covered during driving lessons – here are (5) items worth sharing:-

  1. Demonstrate how to change a flat tyre - or if that's not for them, how to stay safe whilst waiting for roadside assistance to arrive. Sadly there have been many tragic instances of people killed whilst changing tyres or sitting in stationary vehicles in dangerous traffic situations.
  2. Demonstrate how to check and adjust tyre pressures.
  3. Show them how to check fluid levels.
  4. Explain the practical, legal and moral process to follow at the scene of a crash.
  5. Discuss road rage and how to avoid buying into another road user's bad day.

It Begins With Establishing Rapport

Posted on 01 November 2017

The main purpose for sharing this YouTube video of a dad supervising his daughter on her first driving lesson is to demonstrate what effective rapport between a learner and their supervising driver looks like. It's important that parents don't underestimate the influence parent – teen dynamics has on the learning process.

The supervising dad did make numerous technical errors and even though exploring them isn't the principal objective of this particular post, I will address them to an extent. I must state he more than balanced any errors with his teaching attitude. He used great tone; was reassuring and encouraging; BUT still effectively corrected his learner when appropriate without breaking rapport. For the most part, his directions were timely and concise.

Okay, so let's review a few specific items:

A great location was selected for the first drive. The learner's dad got her to begin off-road to familiarise herself with vehicle controls. They rather quickly proceeded to on-road, however there was no traffic so it helped facilitate road positioning; indicating; turning; stopping and speed management practice.

The learner appeared to be seated quite close to the steering wheel. If the arms are excessively bent it can interfere with steering control and cause fatigue. A 40-45 degree bend at the elbows is fine. When your learner is seated with their back against the back-rest ask them to fully extend their arm - In this position the driver's wrist should make contact with the top of the steering wheel – if contact is with the forearm they are too close; if it's the fingers that are touching the steering wheel they are seated too far back.

The steering wheel airbag area appeared to be facing the learner's throat region. If the seat can't be raised any higher, the steering column can be lowered to ensure the airbag strikes the driver's chest area if deployed.

At 2:35 dad realised his daughter was using her left foot to brake. He needed to spend more time covering vehicle controls BEFORE moving off. Because we parents are generally unconsciously competent drivers, we often over estimate how much our teens actually know about driving. Advise your learner that there is a raised floor section for them to place their left foot and to get into the habit of having it anchored there from the start.

Between 7:10-7:40 and again at 8:35 are examples of timely and concise directions.

Between 9:15-11:00 the instructions around the STOP sign are excellent.

15:06 is an example of what happens when the supervising driver is NOT concise – "You're too far to the right – You're going to hit the trash can – so go to your left. Following an over-correction at 15:12 "Not too far left." We must be specific – such as; move a metre to the left – ("Too far" isn't good enough).

19:16 is another example of not being specific – "Go through this way" -- "This way?" "No, this way." dad should have said "Go Left" and pointed left at the same time.

What I believe may have benefited the process is a commentary drive from dad at the very beginning. What he said between 19:32-20:00 would have been perfect if he was driving and modelling the technique. Steering was one area he was finding a little difficult to articulate - so if he drove for ten minutes or so it would have given him the opportunity to better demonstrate it as well as talk about where his left foot was located and how he was approaching intersections and curves.

It's usually not only the learner driver who is negotiating a steep learning curve during the initial hours – the supervising driver is too. Car-parks and other quiet locations offer a lower risk environment to develop vehicle control skills before traffic and hazards are thrown into the mix.

In terms of establishing a solid working rapport, I feel this dad and daughter team were very successful.

Situational Awareness

Posted on 15 October 2017

In my work with parents I often reference various driving situations for them to focus on with their learners. Here are a few short videos courtesy of that I have commented on in the hope it assists learner driver development – as the old saying goes -- a picture paints a thousand words.

This first video provides parents and supervising drivers with an opportunity to discuss situational awareness with their learner. There is little doubt that the driver of the white car who crashed into the side of the Dash-Cam car is the "driver at fault" – however, could the other driver have done anything to avoid the collision?
The lesson for learners is to try and become a predictable driver and expect ALL other road-users to be unpredictable.

The white car does appear to initially indicate left, albeit briefly, BUT does it look like a vehicle that is committed to a left turn? Where is it facing? Why is it stationary in the intersection of a priority road at the turning point? An advanced driver may wonder if they're indecisive because they are perhaps looking for street names or house numbers. An inexperienced but nonetheless focused driver would have at least surmised that something didn't look quite right with that scene.

Overtaking a stationary vehicle in an intersection obviously involves risk, however given the driver did choose to proceed, could he have buffered further to the right when passing? Could a light tap of the horn on approach have helped alert the other driver of his presence? At no stage did the Dash-Cam driver appear to reduce speed or adjust road-position on approach to the intersection and potential hazard.

Ask your learner what options they can think of in this situation. When they drive do they conduct a risk analysis of the constantly changing scene and anticipate potential hazards? Do they plan a course of action in the event of their hunch becoming reality; and do they execute that plan?

I always go to great lengths to warn learner drivers about the perilous right turn at green lights without a turning arrow.

Regardless of whether the road user in this video was legally permitted in the bus lane, it is always VITAL that the turning driver only turns when they are 100% sure that a safe gap exists.

The kerbside lane is particularly dangerous with this manoeuvre as vision is often limited. No doubt the driver in the bus lane was travelling way too fast on approach to the intersection (situation); but isn't that what a low risk driver is always looking out for?

Even though the driver of the truck in this clip is being courteous, the driver of the white car takes it as an invitation to turn. The size of the truck creates a visual block-out for both the car driver and motorcyclist who is dangerously passing blindly in the left-turn only lane.

As with the previous video, you must see a safe gap before proceeding -- Remind your learner not to proceed unless they can see it's clear with their OWN eyes.

If you're finding it difficult to convince your learner to check for red-light-runners before heading out into the intersection, share this vision with them.

It's obvious who the "at fault driver" of the crash in this video is, however, I feel the vision provides an opportunity for parents and supervisors of learner drivers to discuss approaching the crest of hills; crash avoidance spaces; and how to communicate with vehicles travelling behind by using brake lights.

What's quite noticeable throughout the clip is the amount of heavy braking the Dash-Cam vehicle and the green car in front of it is required to do. Setting up and maintaining a three second gap with the vehicle in front prevents the need for this. In wet conditions it is safer to increase that distance by another second or two.

All vehicles appeared to approach the crest of that hill particularly fast – so if there are brake lights just on the other side -- how much distance will be available to stop?

There was very little the driver of the white car that was crashed into could do in this situation as there was nowhere to escape. When stopping or slowing in heavy traffic or in blind-spots (like just beyond the crest of a hill) encourage your learner to leave a couple of car lengths between them and the stationary vehicle in front to allow for road-users behind who don't stop in time. Even if those extra few metres you escape to don't prevent collision, they will at least lessen the impact.

Learner drivers generally think of the brake pedal solely as a tool to slow down and stop the vehicle, however, it's also of course a visual communication aid. The white car that was hit at no stage displayed brake lights. In a potential "sitting duck" position, lightly tapping the brake pedal may have enabled the negligent driver to determine sooner that the vehicle wasn't moving and at least brake a second or so earlier – reducing impact.

A lesson for young drivers is to not 'zone out' once stopped in traffic ... plan an 'escape' in advance; and continue to check mirrors whilst stationary.

This is a great clip for parents to share with their learner drivers. It helps explain speed management and scanning principals.

There is no question that it was the parked 4WD's responsibility to ensure it was safe before leaving the kerb and to stop and exchange details after the collision; BUT the dash-cam driver could have avoided the collision if they had of acknowledged the potential risks associated with parked vehicles relatively close to the corner. If they were travelling at a more appropriate speed for that situation they may have had more opportunity to recognise the outward turned tyre and had more time to react to the hazard.

Minimal driving experience, satellite navigation, night hours, and in this case, tight delivery schedules (the P plater was delivering pizza) can place teenagers at considerable risk. They are very easily distracted in this environment.

As is often the case, a more focused driver could have identified the red flags well before they collided with this distracted [P] plater and taken appropriate crash avoidance measures.

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