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As drivers, there are a lot of things we can practically do in our sleep (but no, driving isn’t one of them).
If you are not sure what we mean, ask yourself: How many buttons and toggles are in your car? And how many of those can you manipulate without looking? After years behind the wheel, we develop a sort of muscle-memory for things like adjusting the radio volume or lowering our window without having to look away from the road.
In many ways, this can help us become better drivers. Anything that takes your eyes off the road is a potentially dangerous distraction, and while hands-free options are risky, tasks like adjusting the radio generally require low brain activity and thus don’t often cause as much of a distraction. The catch is, you have to develop that ability to safely hit those buttons without looking.
Practice while you’re parked
It’s the sort of thing that only comes from spending day after day getting comfortable with your car, which means new teen drivers will lack this skill. But here’s a way to help them get better: practice while you’re parked.
Just have your teen get in the driver’s seat, buckle up and start the vehicle as normal. Instead of driving, however, have your teen practice adjusting the car’s:
Initially, your teen will have to look around for the right buttons but with plenty of practice he or she will learn to adjust these things on the fly.
Analog practice only
Here, however, is the big caveat: this applies to old school physical knobs and buttons only, not the complex digital infotainment systems built into many new cars. While physical buttons generally require little cognitive focus, manipulating the digital systems in modern cars demands high levels of attention. And the more attention your teen has to put into adjusting the radio, the less attention they’ll have on the road.
It’s why you should remind your teen to never adjust their digital systems while driving. It can be helpful to know how to activate the windshield wipers without looking away when a rain shower crops up, but it’s only safe to adjust the GPS and similar systems when the car is safely parked. This can be a slippery slope, so be sure to make these limits clear and follow them yourself.
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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