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Sunday, May 27, 2012

What's It Take to Be a Driving Instructor?

{This is an excerpt from my Training Manual for new instructors, with Parents added in}

Necessary Traits for Becoming a Driving Instructor
A Primer for Parents

What Am I Supposed To Do? I'm a Parent, Not an Instructor!

     Obviously, a driving instructor must have an in-depth knowledge of traffic laws and safe driving practices. An instructor must also possess an understanding of why these laws exist, and why certain driving practices are safer, or more dangerous, than others, so that he or she can better explain them to the student. It is not enough to simply tell a student to "aim higher" or "use caution". These are vague terms to a novice driver, and will, most likely, be misunderstood or forgotten by the student unless an explanation of "why" is given for each term used in the training.

     An instructor also needs to be able to analyze problems, such as what to do in any given traffic situation, so that both the instructor and the student can safely maneuver through or around any dangers. In addition, every individual, whether in a classroom or in one-on-one training in a vehicle, has different rates of understanding, and the instructor must be able to analyze, and then solve, any problems relating to getting the students to understand the instruction being given. Get feedback from them!

     Communications skills are a prime requisite for anyone involved in any kind of instruction. Communicating does not always equal "talking". It also involves listening, demonstrating, explaining a concept seen in a video or text, and encouragement of the student's own sense of self-confidence in his or her driving skills. When we hire a person to be an instructor, one of the first things we look at is his or her "personality" and conversation skills. Every instructor uses the same basic "text", the Vehicle Code. The difference in instructors is how they communicate that text to the student in an understandable and memorable manner.

     Going hand-in-hand with communication skills is the ability to be patient, understanding, and compassionate about the students skills, or lack of skills. Some students are truly terrified of driving, while others are boastful of their driving abilities, whether real or imagined. Any given classroom will have a varied mix of these types of individuals, and the instructor must be able to accommodate the learning curve of all of them. In addition, not all students will be willing teenagers; you may find yourself driving with a rehabilitating stroke victim who may have poor speech patterns, or with immigrants with trouble understanding you. The wise instructor also takes the time to explain and encourage parents regarding their children's lessons.

     In most cases, you will be driving in a vehicle plainly marked with your school name, address, and phone number. A professional instructor will always strive to present a professional manner while driving. If a student witnesses an instructor violating traffic laws, or "shrugging them off" while driving, the instructor's credibility is tarnished, and his or her "professionalism" is in question. The attitude of an instructor must be professional at all times, in class, in the car, and in all driving situations.

     Needless to say, if an instructor does not have a working knowledge of the vehicle, as well as other vehicles the student may meet up with while driving, it will be impossible for the instructor to impart the required knowledge of safety and defensive driving techniques. Knowing that a front-wheel drive vehicle handles differently than a rear-wheel drive car is important to students driving in tight curves or bad weather conditions. The difference between Anti-Lock brakes and regular brakes, during hard braking maneuvers, can be the critical difference between life and death, and must be explained by the instructor.

     None of the "traits" mentioned so far has any meaning if the instructor lacks a true desire to teach. If instruction becomes a "job" and the instructor has no drive to instill knowledge and safety to a novice driver, then no real instruction is being done. Driving instructors who have a desire to teach are the ones that students respect and ask for in subsequent lessons; they know that they are actually learning something! The desire to teach also makes the instructor find various ways of communicating to the students, rather than "going by the book".

     Instructors must always be looking for new and inspirational methods of communicating. Such methods include "participative lecturing", teaching-by-coaching, role-playing and problem solving games, to name a few. Mundane teaching or reading bores many students, and a bored student is a student who is not learning.

     How would you feel about a doctor, or a lawyer, who practices in cut-off shorts, scraggly beards, unkempt hair, and dirty hands? Probably not very comfortable! What makes you think that your students, and their parents, don't look at you and your vehicle the same way? When you take a teenage student for a lesson, the parents are, quite literally, putting their child's life in your hands. They want the comfort of knowing that a professional instructor is at their side, and your appearance, as well as the vehicle they will be in, is the first impression that they have of you. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

     As mentioned earlier, listening is a vital part of communicating. A good instructor listens to not only the words a student may be using, but how they are being used, and the inflection. Quite often the student in your car has poor communication skills themselves, so it is up to you, as a professional, to listen intently and make sure that understanding, comprehension, and learning is taking place.

     The novice driver is also a nervous driver. It is the job of the professional instructor to calm the nerves, build self-confidence, and impart knowledge to the novice driver. This can only be done if the instructor maintains a pleasant and comfortable demeanor. The instructor knows that we all make mistakes now and then, and so he or she must also have the ability to laugh at himself or herself, and not take life too seriously.

     Finally, the professional instructor not only cares about his or her students, but also finds ways of showing it. A student more readily understands the inherent dangers of driving when that student feels that the instructor actually is concerned, and explains the dangers in a way that shows he or she actually cares.
Be Consistent
     One of the most difficult tasks facing you, the parent, is to QUIT being a parent! Your teen needs two things right now: someone to INSTRUCT them on safe driving habits, and an AUTHORITY figure to make the teaching credible. If you try to be a PARENT, your teen (who is, after all, in his or her "rebellious" years) will likely let many of your statements go in one ear and out the other. Remember, they SEE you drive every day, they KNOW (or at least THINK they do!) what your "parenting" skills are like, and they will, very likely, only drive "correctly" when you are around.

     The wise parent is able to set aside their "Mommy / Daddy" personality and adopt a "Teacher" one, which requires a constant conversation during the drive. This conversation will entail descriptions of WHY a certain driving action is done, WHEN it should be done, WHERE it should (or should not) be done, and HOW it should be done, both correctly AND legally.

     You must “prepare yourself “prior to taking your teen driving. Accept the fact that mistakes are going to happen, and think about how you will handle them; reaching over and calmly taking control of the steering wheel, instead of "grabbing" it, using the parking brake on the console (if your car has it there) as your own secondary brake, informing your teen at least a block ahead of a desired turn, or other maneuver, using a "baby monitor" mirror (available from most department stores for around $5.00) as a secondary mirror so that YOU can see traffic to the rear and sides.

     One of the things I look for in an instructor is the ability to remain calm during potentially dangerous situations. I take them out and become a horrible student, one that they must constantly correct and advise. If they rattle easy, I don't hire them. YOU can do the same: take another adult along with you on a drive (WITHOUT your teen!), and let them make mistakes, such as over-turning on a right turn, failure to stop for a stop sign, etc. YOU make the corrective action for them, and think about how you would advise them on a change in their driving skill during the maneuver.

Good Luck....and smile. Remember, in all my years of driver training, the only ones who truly scared me were those who ALREADY HAD a license!

Understanding Intersections

Understanding Intersections

Despite popular belief, intersection crashes and fatalities are only around 20% of all traffic incidents. The latest figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety, FARS (Fatality Analysis Reporting System) 2009, are shown below:

Notice that, of 30,797 fatal crashes, 6,670 (21%) were intersection or intersection-related. The vast majority were at NON-JUNCTION locations, 22,286 (72%). All things considered, intersections are one of the SAFER places to be; one hypothesis for this is due to the fact that most drivers become MORE aware of the danger and pay closer attention to their driving.

Now, of those crashes that DID occur, here’s a breakdown of the traffic flow:
Again, note that the vast majority (75%) occurred on two-lane roads (one lane in each direction). Multi-lane traffic flow, of 4 or more lanes, accounted for only 15%.

Finally, as to the crashes that DID occur in intersections, this pie chart shows the style of crash:

Note that angle collisions (such as occurs when traffic conflicts at right angles, such as when making a right-turn-on-red, or driving thru a red light) account for almost ½ of all fatal collisions, 47%. Side-swipe collisions (such as would happen if changing lanes) are only 2% of those fatalities.
THIS is precisely why I want new drivers, of any age, to understand the law about lane changing. In some states, lane changing WITHIN an intersection is illegal, in others it is illegal within 100 feet of an intersection, and in some, like Florida, it is legal sometimes, and sometimes not. (Florida's traffic laws can be found here: http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=Ch0316/titl0316.htm&StatuteYear=2009&Title=-%3E2009-%3EChapter%20316
To deny them a reasonable expectation of what might happen, legally, just because it is not a popular belief, is, in my opinion, unprofessional at best, and negligence at worse. When we talk about teaching safe driving habits, we should, no, MUST, give them an explanation of WHY this or that practice is safe, and what they can expect from adhering/disobeying such practices.

Pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way...REALLY?

Pedestrian Safety
“Pedestrians always have the right-of-way”, is one of the most vicious myths ever propagated by the general public. It is, quite simply, not true. An even harsher version of that statement, “In Florida, the pedestrian always has the right-of-way” is often (mis)quoted.

The problem with the above statement(s) is that it empowers pedestrians to simply cross where they want, ignoring signs and signals and even traffic…almost daring you to hit them.

This link is from the FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION. It cover the “rights and responsibilities” of pedestrians, as outlined in the Florida Statutes (something not needed if they always had right-of-way!).

One of the reasons I take each of my students on a beach run (Beach Blvd), is to explain to them what to watch for in pedestrians; errors in walking across, using/not using the provided green flags, flashing lights at some crosswalks, anticipation of what a pedestrian might do based on location, body stance, and visual search.

Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, except in certain cases where they are WITHIN a crosswalk. This is why we often read in the paper where a pedestrian was injured/killed and the driver WAS NOT CITED. How can this be if the pedestrian always has the right of way?

Parental Driver Training

Parental Driver Training

{the word "guide" as used in this blog refers to my upcoming guide to "Parent-Lead Driver Education for Teens"}

Parental Driver Training
Your child has reached an important milestone; a LEARNER’S PERMIT.  It is our hope that acquiring mature driving skills and judgment will be a rewarding experience for you and your teenager.  With your involvement, it can also be a safe experience.  This 40-hour parent/teen driving handbook provides suggestions for in-car lessons to help you guide your child in making this step to adulthood more successful for both of you.
How do you teach a 16-year-old not to be a 16-year-old behind the wheel of an automobile?  Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to prepare your teenager for the responsibilities of driving.  Driver education at its best is a team effort involving schools, communities, students, and families.
Cars do not crash; people crash them. In 2005, 136 Young Drivers (Ages 15-20) were killed and an additional 193 others killed as a result of a crash involving a driver (Ages 15-20) in Georgia. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death of 15 to 20-year olds (based on 2003 figures, which are the latest mortality data currently available from the National Center for Health Statistics).  In 2008, 3,500 15- to 20-year old drivers were killed and an additional 350,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes nationally.
The ability to move a car skillfully is not the same thing as the ability to drive safely.  Steering the vehicle is a relatively simple skill that most people can master in a short period of time.  Driving is a complex task requiring mastery of various performance skills.  It requires processing and accurately evaluating risk in the driving environment, developing appropriate responses to minimize risk, and gaining experience to predict what action others may take.
Research shows that in order for young drivers to remain collision-free, parents must model safe driving behaviors and invest in meaningful guided practice over a long period of time to turn these skills into good driving habits!
If neither parent has a valid driver’s license, a friend or relative can conduct the guided practice sessions.  Because parents and guardians play such a significant role in the development of safe driving habits, parents should remain involved in the learning process as observers in the car during the guided practice sessions.  Knowing your child is a skilled, safety-conscious driver will give you peace of mind in the years to come.
In addition to sharpening your driving skills, it is our hope the guided practice sessions presented in this guide will provide your child with a solid foundation to develop safe, collision-free driving habits that will last a lifetime.  At the end of this technical assistance guide is a 40-hour log to help you keep track of your driving time together.
The Parents’ Role in the Young Driver’s Licensing Process
• Provide their child with at least 50 hours of supervised driving experience with 10 hours at night.
• Control the child’s driving privileges if he or she is not demonstrating responsible behavior.
• Continue to monitor their child’s driving after receipt of their provisional license, reinforce safety
belt use, and limit passengers, cell phone use and other driving distractions.
• Present a positive role model by demonstrating safe driving behaviors.
Parent Tips for In-Car Guided Practice Sessions
Parental reinforcement of basic driving skills and good decision-making will lead to safe driving habits that will last a lifetime.

• Enjoy your time together.  Have fun! This is a great “bonding” opportunity.  Focus on the driving
task and leave family issues at home.
• When you drive, set a good example to model.  Always wear your safety belt. Try to correct any
unsafe driving habits that you may have acquired; such as rolling through stop signs, accelerating through yellow lights, exceeding the speed limit. etc.
• If possible, initial instruction should begin in a car with an automatic transmission so that your
child can focus on mastering basic vehicle control maneuvers.
• Select driving environments that complement the lesson objectives and the novice driver’s ability. 
Start in parking lots and progress to quiet neighborhoods.  Stay in a safe, low-risk environment as long as needed and, in the beginning, practice driving routes familiar to your child.
• Check to make sure your child has their Learner’s Permit and insurance information with him or
her when operating a vehicle.
• Explain the objectives of each lesson and review what was learned in the last lesson.
• Feedback should be precise and immediate.  If a mistake is made, repeat the maneuver taking the
driver step by step through the process, and then allow practice without assistance. 
• Be patient, calm, and alert at all times.  Make positive remarks frequently.
• Have short, well-planned practice sessions.  Thirty minutes is the optimum learning period for
beginning drivers.  The first 30 minutes of each one-hour session should be used to introduce and practice the new skills.  Assess the child’s understanding of the lesson objectives during the second half of the session.  Set high standards and evaluate each driving session together.
• In a parking lot, practice steering the car with your left hand from the passenger seat.
• If you have a car with a parking brake between the seats, practice stopping the car by depressing the release button and raising the parking brake.
• To prepare yourself to regain speed control in the event you child panics, practice shifting the
transmission from drive to neutral from the passenger seat. 
• Adjust the mirror on the passenger sun visor so you can use it as a rearview mirror.  If the right
outside mirror is properly adjusted to eliminate blind spot and glare, you can also use that mirror to monitor traffic to the rear from the passenger seat.  (see page 7)
• Keep instructions simple and concise.  First direct where to go, and then state the action to take
(e.g., “At the next intersection, turn right.”)
• Check mirrors and the space to the sides and ahead of the vehicle before giving directions.
• Emphasize driving with a large anticipation zone by looking at least 15-20 seconds ahead.  Play the
“what if game”; what if a car suddenly changes lanes, stops, turns, etc.
• Encourage commentary driving!  This is the most valuable tool you have for checking how your
child is processing driving skills and evaluating the environment.  Ask your child to “read the
traffic picture aloud” describing anything that may affect your path of travel.  For example, when your child changes speed, your child may say: “red light, mirror, ease foot off accelerator and brake.”  Actually, you should hear “mirror and ease off accelerator” a lot!
• Reinforce the fact that a green light means one must scan the intersection before proceeding.
• Encourage your child not to panic when approached by an emergency vehicle and to focus on
looking for a safe area to pull over.  
• Discuss the rules for passing a stopped school bus with flashing lights.
• Encourage new drivers to change their route to avoid making a difficult left turn.
• There is a lot to learn in each lesson, so your child may need extra time to attain adequate skill
proficiency.  Mastery at each level is important before moving on to the next lesson. 
• If possible, integrate night driving into each area of instruction.