There are poor drivers with and without experience, but novices have the steepest learning curve. While many seasoned drivers still have things to master, new drivers have simply not acquired familiarity with many real-world driving events.
Driver errors are regularly the result of inattention, indifference, ignorance, or bad habits. Others, though, come from well-intentioned young drivers. We should always drive defensively, while accommodating others’ errors — but watching for and tolerating rookie mistakes is paramount in striving for roadway harmony.
In the NASCAR racing circuit, drivers display an orange stripe on their racecar bumpers to designate their rookie status. This tradition is not just to identify their inaugural year — it’s there to remind experienced drivers to give them some extra consideration.
For street driving, new drivers’ vehicles sport no such driver classification branding, and that’s too bad. Just think of how you treat a marked driver training vehicle carrying driving school. You likely afford them extra consideration — the same consideration when fresh out of driving school in an unmarked car or truck.
It’s not that these drivers aren’t paying attention — though some may not be — it’s that they have not yet had the time to master even basic maneuvers, let alone perfect difficult tasks like freeway merging. The roadways are always freshly stocked with new drivers. They have every right to be out there, but potential peril is inherent during the learning curve.
Some sobering statistics: motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers; 16 year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age; 16-year-olds are three times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than the average of all drivers; 30 percent of teen drivers killed in auto accidents have been drinking, according to NHTSA, and 25 percent had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher; young driver death rates increase with each additional passenger.
From my own early driving experiences, I recall that many skills are gained through practice and experimentation. The ability to judge spatial relationships of one’s vehicle to objects and other vehicles is a learned craft. That’s why it’s difficult for new drivers to accurately determine the closing rate of approaching cars, for example.
Following are general tips for novice operators, which happen to apply to all drivers:
• Take you time to get organized before departure — position seat properly, fasten belt, adjust mirrors, adjust steering wheel, lock doors, and look all around.
• Concentrate totally on the driving task — avoid distractions.
• Avoid making left-hand turns at intersections without traffic control — since it takes practice to judge the speed of oncoming vehicles, it is better to go a block or two to an intersection with a left-turn arrow, or plan a different route.
• Watch for unexpected obstacles in road, like deer and other animals — especially at dusk.
• Don’t use cruise control in wet or other slippery conditions — use headlights whenever wipers are required.
• When the light turns green, make sure the intersection is clear before you go.
• Don’t drink and drive, or ride with anyone who has been drinking. If you need a ride home, call parents or friends.
• Obey speed limits—excess speed inhibits your ability to stop or otherwise react.
• Don’t allow passengers to distract you or influence you to drive beyond your comfort zone.
• If it feels risky—don’t do it.
May we all learn from our mistakes without major consequences.
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.