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We throw around the term “bad” driver a lot on the road, often when someone is driving like it’s their first time on the road.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that many people get frustrated when driving near a vehicle displaying a “Student Driver” sign or bumper sticker, since we assume this means we’ll be stuck going particularly slow or forced to be extra cautious. Here’s the thing, though: teens are bad drivers.
This isn’t meant to shame teen drivers. Driving is incredibly difficult, so we shouldn’t expect perfection from teenagers who are totally new to it. Instead, we should recognize their inexperience and find ways to help them become better drivers. Here are some ways we can do it.
The reason teens often drive with “Student Driver” signs on their vehicles is that we have a different set of expectations for them. Due to their inexperience, new drivers may be slow to react to hazards, make decisions, or do simple things like brake or use turn signals. Experienced drivers may find these delays irritating because these actions have become second nature to them, but even the simplest driving steps can be puzzling to teens.
That’s why the best thing you can do to help new drivers is to be patient. If you’re driving behind a “Student Driver” vehicle, refrain from honking, tailgating or cutting the new driver off. You might think this is helping the teen driver prepare for what the road is really like, but it may actually increase his or her crash risk. When you find yourself in these situations, stay calm and cut the driver some slack.
To make this process easier, think back to when you first got behind the wheel. Surely, you faced some challenges learning to drive, and that was probably before cell phones became such a problem on our roads. Imagine if you were learning to drive now on roads crowded with distracted drivers: you’d need all the help you could get. So not only do teens need you to give them a break, they also need you to drive safely.
Teens lack the experience needed to handle unexpected situations, but you can help keep them safe by driving the way they’re expecting you to. Avoid last-minute braking, changing lanes without signaling or excessive speeding. In fact, try driving like a teen: be cautious, obey the speed limit and take your time with difficult decisions. The more careful you are, the better chance a teen driver has of anticipating your actions.
The next time you see a “Student Driver” on the road, don’t get frustrated. Take it as a reminder to drive responsibly and help keep every road user safe.
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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