Does your teen know a driving hazard when they see one?
The ability to recognise and respond to hazards is a complex mental skill that drivers develop over time, becoming quicker to react as they gain more experience on the road. Teen drivers are more likely to have a crash in the first 12 months behind the wheel  as their perception of hazards hasn’t had time to develop yet. Knowing how to properly scan for trouble up ahead will help them develop hazard recognition skills that in time will become second nature.
Teaching teens to scan for hazards starts before we even put the key in the ignition as we need to look in front, under and behind the parked vehicle. Checking the travel path will ensure that we don’t start the car and immediately back into to someone. Once on the road our eyes continue to plan the safest travel path, making adjustments based on signalling of other vehicles. As we approach intersections we need to slow down and be prepared to stop, even if we have right-of-way. We’re constantly checking traffic lights and signs, scanning for pedestrian movement, and gauging the intentions of other drivers.
A hazard is any source of danger that can lead to a crash, and is usually avoidable if we react in the correct manner. The other vehicles around us on the road can become hazards at any moment so we are always watching out in case someone suddenly stops ahead of us, merges into our lane, or turns from a side-road or driveway. Other common hazards that we need to scan for and expect include pedestrians jaywalking, roadworks, breakdowns, or traffic accidents. Sometimes these hazards will be very sudden, such a child chasing a ball onto the road or the door of a parked car opening.
A common mistake that parents make is only taking teens out for driving practice under optimum conditions. They may think that they are keeping them safe by easing them into driving on easy roads with clear visibility and few hazards. A study of 217 parent-teen pairs led by the Center for Injury Research and Prevention found that the best way to reduce crashes is to have teens practice on progressively more difficult roads, at night and in bad weather . This way the teens developed real world hazard recognition skills that served them well when they got behind the wheel alone.
And do not underestimate your role as a parent teaching kids to drive and this starts before they reach driving age. A survey by Ford found 89 percent of adults “admit to occasionally engaging in at least one bad habit or potentially unsafe driving behaviour” . If you are not comfortable in this role, seek help from professional trainers as the survey also found parents and kids get frustrated with each other.
Fine tuning a teen’s vehicle handling
The word “Psychomotor” sure sounds ominous. Would you want a Psychomotor behind the wheel? Actually yes! It’s the name given to a set of skills we use while driving, those minute muscle movements that are perfected by performing them over and over again. When teen drivers first get behind the wheel they tend to overestimate or under-estimate their movements as they haven’t had enough time to develop sufficient co-ordination. Sophisticated vehicle handling can be critical in avoiding accidents, saves fuel, and also saves wear on the car.
When we accelerate too abruptly we lose grip and experience “wheelspin”, which means that the wheels will spin faster than the vehicle is traveling. This means we need to ease off on the throttle until the tyres regain traction, and then accelerate more gently. On the other hand if we brake too hard the wheels “lock up” while the car is still moving. This means that we need to release the brakes so that the tyres start to turn again, and then brake more slowly and gradually. Rather than experiencing these conditions for the first time in a difficult situation, teen drivers should practice intentionally spinning and locking wheels in a safe environment so that they can learn how to apply appropriate pressure to the accelerator and brakes.
Experienced drivers develop an instinct about how the vehicle grips onto the road, but it helps teens improve their handling ability if they can picture what happens physically when they move the vehicle. As we accelerate, the weight of the car moves backwards, which increases the grip on the rear tyres. Conversely, easing off on the throttle and then braking transfers weight to the front of the car, which increases the grip on the front tyres and helps with turning. This is why we brake going into a corner and accelerate out of it, using the weight of the vehicle to our advantage.
We think of vehicles moving along the road, it’s useful to the think about the impact of how we’re actually touching the surface. The point on the tyre where we touch the road is known as a “contact patch”. As tyres are flexible a greater load increases the contact patch while higher inflation means a smaller contact patch. This is why it’s important to also teach teen drivers to regularly check their air pressure, as it controls the contact patch and therefore impacts steering precision, cornering, stability, and fuel economy.
Managing vehicle speed is about more than speed
Teaching teen drivers to manage speed goes beyond simply obeying the speed limit. Learning to adjust to the appropriate speed in reaction to road conditions and other road users is vital to both avoiding crashes and reducing the seriousness of accidents that do happen.
Even with optimum conditions and good visibility, it takes three quarters of a second to notice something on the road and hit the brakes , which is 12 metres of travel at 60 km/h. To come to a complete stop you have to factor in an additional 20 metres of space. This means that when you’re driving in heavy traffic, bad weather, or a place with many pedestrians, you should drive slower than the speed limit to give yourself more time to react.
When driving in a city it is important not only to drive slowly but to learn when to ”cover your brake” so that you can stop quickly in the event of a hazard. This means that you take your foot off of the accelerator and hold it over the brake pedal, ready to brake at any time. Whenever you drive next to parked cars you should cover your brake and be ready to stop if a door opens or if someone steps out from between two parked cars. You should also be watching the vehicles ahead of you and when you see their brake lights illuminate be prepared to stop behind them. While we want to be ready to brake, we don’t want to actually drive with our foot touching the brake pedal, as this will send the wrong signal to other drivers. This is called “riding the brakes”, terminology you’ll want to instil into young drivers.
Out on multi-lane roads where you have more space and the speed limit is over 80km/h, you should be driving in the left lane. You move into the right lane only if you are overtaking, turning right, avoiding an obstruction, or if traffic in every lane is congested. Driving in traffic is always a challenge, because you must go with the flow of other drivers and match their speed. The WA Road Safety Commission found that speeding is a factor in 24 per cent of fatalities and that the risk of a crash doubles with every 5km/h increase in speed above the limit. 
What your teen needs to know about space when driving
The more space that you create between you and the car in front of you, the longer you will have to react in the case of a hazard. The minimum safe following distance under optimum conditions is 3 seconds, which equals 8 or 9 car lengths at 60km/h. To ensure that you are 3 seconds behind, look at a fixed point such as a road sign that the vehicle ahead is passing and count three seconds out loud, eg. “one thousand two thousand three thousand”. The front of your vehicle should reach that point at the end of your count. In difficult conditions, such as bad weather, slippery roads, or when you are following a motorcycle you should increase your following distance.
Managing the space beside your car
The space directly either side of your car and behind your passenger seat is your blindspot. It’s not a good place to drive in. If the other driver can’t see you properly they may change lanes at the wrong time. Instead, if you end up alongside another car either move ahead slightly so that they can see you or carefully drop back a safe distance.
Managing the space behind your car
Just as you’re keeping a three second gap back from the car in front of you, the car behind you should be maintaining the same distance. Sadly not every driver can be relied on to follow safe space management, and tailgating causes rear-end crashes. If someone is getting up too close it’s best to change lanes or slow down enough to let them past. You can communicate to the driver behind you that you are slowing down by gently tapping on the brakes to flash the brake lights.
Teaching a teen the dangers of distracted or impaired driving
Teens are so accustomed to multitasking and using technology in their day-to-day lives that it can difficult to teach them the importance of giving driving their full attention. A study by the SA Dept of Planning Transport and Infrastructure showed that inattention or distraction were a contributing factor for nearly a third of fatal crashes and 44 per cent of serious crashes . Using mobile phones, smoking, drinking, talking to passengers and fiddling with the stereo distracts the senses away from the road and increases the risk of an accident.
A 6-mile driving simulation created by the Journal of Psychopharmacology studied the effects of common distractions like texting, talking, and GPS and compared them to the effects of alcohol. The distractions impaired a driver’s ability to perform key functions steering and controlling lane position just like alcohol would. Additionally, the researchers found that the level of impairment on safe driving was twice as great when driving under the influence of both alcohol and distractions. 
For parents it is particularly important to set a good example when it comes to using mobile phones as a “do as I say not as I do” attitude will prove fatal. Teens are at greater risk as they are experiencing the difficulty of balancing the visual, mental and physical demands of driving for the first time. Research shows that drivers who use a mobile phone spend less time looking at the road ahead and are unable to use visual search patterns or scanning for hazards. They also lose the ability to maintain speed and position, are more likely to wander outside of their lane, impair reaction time and ultimately are four times as likely to crash. 
As well as teaching teens by example, often good planning is better than a cure. You can start by turning your phone off, or telling family not to call when they know you’ll be driving. If you’re taking a long trip, plan regular stops where you can relax properly, grab a bite to eat and send some texts. In the event that you absolutely have to make a call while driving, make sure to pull over safely and park before picking up the phone.
Ford recently launched its Driving Skills for Life teen-safe driving program, which is free for select schools across Australia. It includes the use of a ‘drink driving suit’  and texting-while-driving demonstrations. The goal is to expose teens to these extreme risks in a safe setting before they are tempted to do them on our roads.