What to teach new students, and when
By Steve Wallace
Times Colonist, June 30th 2017
When I first took my driving-instructor’s course, there was a very experienced group of teachers who guided me through the whole process of appropriate lesson tasks and the timing of those tasks.
I wanted to head over to a parking lot to do my introductory lesson with my first student, (a fellow instructor attempting to act like a beginner).
“Nothing doing,” was the response from my master instructor running the training session.
He explained that students were here to learn to drive, not be pampered on a parking lot.
He was right.
Parking lots have all sorts of hazards, such as curbs, light standards, concrete separation impediments, narrow entrances and exits, other vehicles, pedestrians and a host of distractions.
The best location to begin a driving lesson is on a relatively straight road in a light traffic area, so as not to inconvenience others.
The acceleration and braking manoeuvres are the most important to master in the first session.
New drivers will come with a variety of experiences, ranging from several hours behind the wheel to never having sat in the driver’s seat.
The most important thing to remember, as a parent, grandparent or any other co-pilot practising with a new driver, is to stay ahead of the student.
There should never be “dead air” in the practice session. In the initial stages of instruction and practice, instructors and co-pilots should be doing a running commentary of what will be occurring, not what just happened.
Regardless of what is being taught, staying ahead of the student is paramount.
It is a good idea to have new drivers do a running commentary when they feel comfortable with the tasks presented.
This gives the student ownership of the task and makes them feel much more comfortable with the process.
The hand-over-hand turning action is very important to the student’s progress.
Virtually every driving task, beyond the straight drive, depends on this one seemingly simple skill.
It is best to teach the left turn first, if one is in a relatively quiet neighbourhood.
The turning arc is much bigger and certainly more forgiving than the much tighter right turn.
If there is a likelihood of more traffic in the area, it is best to stick with the right-turn lesson first.
Testable items such as the parallel park, parking on a hill, reverse stall park, U-turn, two and three-point turns and pulling on and off the road will all involve this hand-over-hand steering method.
Doing these tasks at idle speed is the best introduction to turns.
It is a good idea to do most of the skill items with “dry steering.”
This means separating the turning and movement of the vehicle.
It is not mandatory to control the vehicle in this manner, but it is far more efficient than the push-pull action on the wheel.
Speed is the biggest issue.
Turns will likely be good or bad based on the speed of the vehicle, rather than the hand and arm action.
Matching the speed to the manoeuvre is important. At low speed, in particular, a learner will sometimes mistake the gas pedal for the brake.
This happens when the new driver has the vehicle in gear and travelling very slowly, while doing confined-space exercises.
The fact they are controlling the speed of the vehicle by manipulating the brake pedal gives them the sense that the other pedal, namely the accelerator, should be used to stop.
For this reason, doing the first drive in a confined space is never recommended.
Lessons should be tailored to the relative skill and experience of the student.
A mix of review and introduction of new activity will keep every learner motivated.