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To be a safe driver, you have to be able to read minds.
That’s not a skill new teen drivers will have – and you might think you lack it, as well – but this is actually something we can all learn to do. Another term for it is reading traffic, which means paying attention to the other people on the road and anticipating what is most likely to happen next. The important detail here is figuring out what is likely to happen, not what should happen.
At an intersection, each driver should wait for his or her turn to go through the intersection, but once you’ve spent some time behind the wheel you learn that that is not always the case (and assuming it is can put your teen driver at risk). To stay safe, your teen has to learn how to read traffic and you can help him or her get there.
With school back in session, your new driver will have plenty of opportunities to develop this skill in different situations. Imagine your teen is trying to get home after a busy homecoming game. Traffic is backed up in the parking lot and everyone is trying to cut in line to get out faster.
With so many vehicles moving in their own lines, your teen has trouble knowing which way to go. Suddenly, your teen’s line starts moving when the others have stopped.
Some drivers might hit the gas and take advantage of this break in the line, but reading traffic would mean asking, why is this line moving when the others aren’t? Could there be a pedestrian trying to cross through the parking lot? Is another car ahead of your teen going to merge into this open space without looking or signaling? Your new driver may not have these answers immediately, but taking a moment to consider them and look closely at the situation gives your teen the chance to react and avoid injury.
This type of thinking applies to common and rare traffic situations, from intersections and highways to construction zones and parking lots. And it takes time. New drivers are taught the rules of the road and they may expect everyone to follow them all of the time. Unfortunately, we have to account for irresponsible road users on every trip by carefully reading the traffic.
More than anything, this means being cautious. It means choosing to slow down when something seems off, so that you can try to understand what is going on and make the best, safest decision. If your teen gets stuck behind a vehicle turning left, for example, he or she has to learn to not merge around them immediately to save time. Instead, teach your teen to check the mirrors, look for other vehicles coming up from behind and wait for a safe opportunity to change lanes.
The more thought your teen driver puts into what other road users are thinking, the better chance he or she has of avoiding a crash. As we have noted before, being a courteous driver might not get you to your destination first, but it will get you there safely. Plus, gaining the skills of a ‘Mind Reader’ will look great on your teen’s college applications!
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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