What does a teenage driver think about when he (or she) gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle? Chances are he thinks about things other than traffic and what’s going on around him – things like dating, parties, the latest number one music video, schoolwork, and so forth. But, driving is a complex task. It takes complete attention and concentration.
How can a parent tell if his teen driver is clearly focused on the driving task? How can he tell what kind of information the teen is processing? Is he properly organizing what he sees? One way a parent can help his teen learn to stay focused on the driving scene is to engage him in commentary driving.
What is Commentary Driving?
Commentary driving is talking – calling attention to parts of the surrounding environment that could directly or indirectly affect the driving task. The driving environment includes, but is not limited to: Condition of the car and driver, traffic signs, road markings, what can be seen (or not seen) in the mirrors and the presence of other vehicles. It takes into account the weather conditions, pedestrian activity, distractions, time of day, and much more.
Here’s an example of commentary driving:
Picture a teen driver about to enter a residential area straight ahead. It’s Saturday afternoon and the weather is warm and sunny. There are children at play, including a group on the sidewalk kicking around a ball. A car is approaching from the opposite direction. A few older kids are riding bikes farther down the block, but scatter to both sides of the road as they see the two cars coming near. There is a controlled intersection just ahead, plus there’s a green traffic light two blocks ahead. How does commentary driving work?
In commentary driving the teen is asked to state first what is most important: “Children in the street and on the sidewalk.” At the same time he should react by slowing his speed. He lists other hazards in order of importance: “Oncoming car. Upcoming intersection with stop a sign. Green light ahead. Glare from the sun.” He might also mention mail boxes, a blind driveway hidden by bushes, and what his speedometer reads. The idea of commentary driving is to train the driver to focus on the most important danger(s) first and to keep his mind on the ever-changing picture.
Developing Driver Organization Skills
A parent can help a teen develop good driver organization skills. With the parent behind the wheel and the teen in the front passenger seat, ask the teen to comment on what he sees, beginning with the most hazardous or most important clue. Discuss whether or not the clues are organized and what changes need to be made to improve the order.
Commentary driving is a good way to identify distractions and builds confidence. Allow the teen to get as much driving time as possible. Frequently test his organizational skills through commentary driving. After a few sessions, there will hopefully be a significant improvement in the teen driver’s performance.
Using the Senses in Learning to Drive
As new teen drivers gain experience, they learn to use their other senses. They develop an even greater awareness of the driving environment. Skilled experienced drivers are constantly aware of changing weather conditions, the different odors in the vehicle and the feel of the vehicle contacting the road. They instantly identify and make adjustments for pedestrians, animals crossing the highway, construction and distractions. Continuing commentary driving will show a parent how much more the teen sees as he gains more driving experience.
Commentary driving is an effective way to improve driving skills. It is gathering the most critical clues and responding in time to prevent an accident or driving mishap. Think of commentary driving as a method for gaining a better understanding of the driving environment at any given time. OTR (Over-the-road) truck and bus drivers go through the same routine in professional driving school. Trainee drivers are required by their instructors to comment on every driving-related thing they see in order to improve focus and driver performance.
A teen driver has a responsibility to keep others safe, as well as himself. He is responsible for preventing harm to property. Explain to your teen driver how important it is to always be aware of his surroundings. Set an example for your teen by being a defensive driver. Commentary driving is a way to reduce anxiety for a new driver and his parent; both are focused on the driving task. It’s a way to build good driving habits and skills that will keep a new driver – and those around him – safe from harm.