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Teen drivers may face a lot of limitations behind the wheel – from the hours they can drive to who they can have as a passenger – but there’s one benefit these new drivers have over the rest of us: they don’t have to drive during rush hour.
It’s every worker’s nemesis; the daily commute that takes 40 minutes to go 15 miles. Teens may not understand this now, but that doesn’t mean they never will, and anyone who has ever gotten home 25 minutes later than usual thanks to traffic will tell you they wish everyone else knew how to drive on crowded roads.
But what exactly does that look like? Now is your chance to teach a new generation of drivers how to behave in gridlock. Here is what your teen needs to know.
Expect the worst
Before your teen gets into traffic, he or she needs to know what to expect. Most days, commutes are filled with annoyed drivers looking to get to their destinations as fast as possible. For your teen, that means he or she shouldn’t expect a lot of courtesy. The slightest delay earns you horn honks and if you need to merge, you’ll be waiting for a while.
Like a lot of situations behind the wheel, this may not seem fair, but it’s better for your new driver to know what to expect and try to do better than to go in with assumptions that could lead to a crash.
Leave yourself an out
Along this same line, your teen needs to be an especially effective defensive driver in stop-and-go traffic. Vehicles in these situations may not be moving at high speeds, but that slow pace can create a false sense of security. Drivers may be more likely to use their phones, neglect their turn signals and brake at the last minute if they think the risks are low.
Fortunately, your teen can counter many of these dangers by simply leaving themselves an out. That means leaving extra room between vehicles instead of stopping right behind the next car. Other drivers may take advantage and cut into this open space, but teach your teen to resist the urge to tailgate. The extra stopping distance can come in handy if the next driver brakes suddenly or the one behind is distracted and doesn’t brake fast enough. Crashes and injuries can happen at any speed, so make sure your teen doesn’t drop his or her guard along with the needle on their speedometer.
That brings us to the topic of focus and how it is often missing in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Nothing makes the commute home worse than being stuck behind a driver who is watching their phone instead of the road. One second to glance at a phone becomes five seconds, and soon huge lines of cars are starting and stopping out of sync, all thanks to one distracted driver.
But this can be much more than just a frustration. Again, because the stakes appear lower at slow speeds, drivers may be more likely to merge without signaling or even looking. This is another reason for your teen to not only have an out but to pay careful attention to the drivers all around the vehicle and regularly check the vehicle’s mirrors, whether your teen plans to change lanes or not. It may take the skills of a mind reader, but as we’ve discussed, that’s something your teen can learn with practice.
Heading out for a drive in traffic with your teen may not be your idea of a relaxing time, but it’s crucial if you want him or her to be safe in these situations. And as an added bonus, your teen may have a little more sympathy for you after a long drive home.
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DriveitHOME™ is an initiative of the National Safety Council, designed by and for parents of newly licensed teen drivers. DriveitHOME™ offers free resources parents can use to help their teen build experience to become safer drivers.
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