Give Young Drivers A Brake

The other day, alert “06880” reader — and very generous and caring Westporter — Gloria Gouveia had an incident all of us can relate to.

Her reaction to it was noteworthy. So is her willingness to share it with the world.

Gloria writes:

Shortly before 3 this afternoon, in an uncharacteristic and deplorable lack of manners, I honked at a black BMW SUV with Connecticut plates in front of me, for taking too long at the stop sign where Avery Place merges with Myrtle Avenue.

As the vehicle continued toward the light at Post Road East at 15 to 20 miles an hour, it occurred to me that the driver was elderly or unfamiliar with the area.

When the car turned into the right lane going east on the Post Road, I glanced at the driver from the left lane.

I saw a pretty, young girl in the driver’s seat, with a look of trepidation that reminded me of being 16 years old — behind the wheel of our giant family station wagon, sitting on a pillow to see over the steering wheel, white-knuckle driving for months after I got my license.

My regret for honking at her was immediate, and palpable.

I am sending my mea culpa out to the Universe, in hopes that she or someone she knows sees this post, with my sincere apology for being so impatient and impolite.

Thanks, Gloria. Beautifully said.

The next day, I received this, from Steve Mochel. He signed it “Parent, and CEO of Fresh Green Light Driving School.” Steve writes:

One of our instructors, Louise Ortega, works in our Westport location. She’s also a writer, and wrote this based on her experience.

It’s something we all deal with on a daily basis: frustration with slow-moving drivers. 

We experience this daily with our vehicles — and they are bright green and say “Student Driver” on them. So I know our young new drivers experience this as well when they’re out with their parents, or just starting out driving by themselves. 

Louise says:

Louise Ortega offers tips.

We’ve all seen that vehicle. The one that comes flying around the corner behind you doing 40 mph in a residential zone. The driver races up behind you and starts weaving, bullying you to speed up. Tailgating, gesturing rudely and using their horn inappropriately.

Now imagine your 16-year-old having to deal with this, and learn to drive at the same time.

Driver aggression is a huge problem. Here are a few tips to teach your child to defend themselves in traffic. 

Model good driving behavior. I cannot emphasize this enough. Stop at every stop sign. Put your phone down. Do not road rage. Drive at the speed limit. Do not adjust your driving to please aggressive drivers.

Buy multiple “Student Driver” magnets, and put them on every side of your vehicle. Make it clear your student needs space.

Be your student’s eyes and ears. Do not assume they have identified an obvious hazard. New drivers have very narrow vision; all they concentrate on at first is staying between the lines. Their vision will expand with more hours behind the wheel.

Teach your student to scan 360°. They have to learn to watch the car in front of them, observe changes in traffic 15 to 20 seconds ahead, scan for vehicles merging from side roads and businesses, and check their rearview mirror for aggressive lane changers who may cut them off.

Emphasize adequate stopping distance. Extra stopping distance allows students that extra second they need to assess rapidly changing conditions. It also allows the aggressive driver a  possibility to pass.

Do not be afraid to steer from the passenger seat. Do not shout if you have to take over for a moment. Use a calm, modulated voice. As a parent, you don’t have the advantage of a passenger-side brake. Make it an inviolable rule that if you say “STOP!” your teenager stops. You can explain why once the car is at a standstill. Students have what we as experienced drivers consider a lag when reacting to changes in traffic around us. We have years behind the wheel and have developed the reaction time to match. A student with 10 hours of driving time has not. If your child needs extra time in school, they will also need extra time behind the wheel.

Allow your teen to make mistakes. If need be, pull over to explain what went wrong. Use positive reinforcement. Shouting is not positive.

Teach your child to defend himself or herself in traffic, and obey road rules under pressure. It will help them pass their test. Their focus should be to follow the rules and please the examiner who sits beside them, not the driver behind them. It will keep them safe, and help them develop good lifetime driving habits.

Remind them that if they get honked they are probably doing it properly. Just because an adult appears angry with them does not mean they are in the wrong.

Do not allow your student to gesture at another driver. Do not engage. Avoid eye contact, and simply pretend that driver is not there.

(“06880” is honored to post public service messages like this. Please support our work by clicking here. Thank you!)

9 responses to “Give Young Drivers A Brake

  1. charles taylor

    I’m sending this to my daughter for her children 18 and 16! Thanks a million!

  2. This is excellent! Both the situation that prompted this article, and the article itself. How very helpful to inexperienced drivers! I would also encourage Fresh Green Light and other driver’s ed schools, if they don’t currently do so, to add a section on navigating parking lots. So many people drive randomly through mall and supermarket parking lots that these parking lots can become serious accident-prone locations!

  3. Eric Buchroeder

    Is Driver’s Ed still taught in Westport Schools?

  4. I remember Mr. Weiss as SHS driving education teacher, but seem to remember Mr. Wanke (math teacher) doing the road tests (?). Anyway, we were fortunate to have it part of the curriculum.

  5. Have “L” (learners) or “N” (new/novice) stickers on back windshield. Maybe that is already being done.

  6. Sorry. “Student driver” magnets are used.

  7. Great advice from an amazing instructor. My daughter takes lessons with Louise and I know she is in safe hands. Louise is calm and kind.

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