Learning to drive as an adult can come with a great deal of anxiety, since there may have been an event that prevented the new driver from mastering the skill earlier on in life. If you’re helping a friend learn the rules of the road, Mark Primack, co-founder of Primo Driving Schools in Los Angeles, has some tips for keeping your nerves (and friendship) intact.
While lots of people delay learning to drive for simple reasons (like growing up without a car), many also do so because they had a difficult experience, like an accident. “Often, if someone is learning to drive as an adult, they’ve gotten it in their heads that it’s scary and dangerous,” says Primack. The right approach can convince them it doesn’t have to be, he insists. “Address [the fear] openly first, then set them up with steps to get them comfortable and more likely to have a good, safe experience.” Also, acknowledge that your friend may feel some embarrassment about not having mastered what some consider a “basic” life skill; assure them that it’s increasingly common not to learn as a teen, and that learning is possible at any age.
Have A “Lesson Plan”
Planning is key to safe, smooth sessions. So before setting out, make sure you’re both covered by up-to-date auto insurance. Then set aside several windows of time for lessons. Primack typically recommends five or six two-hour lessons. Use his suggestions as a guide:
1st: Learning about the car itself: controls, diagnostics, gears, adjusting mirrors, lights and blinkers. Understanding the basics will help the driver feel more confident. Then move on to turning, breaking, reversing and pulling up to a curb in a residential area.
2nd: Introducing commercial areas and lane changes, right and left turns at intersections, and parking in a large, low-traffic lot.
3rd: Introducing higher-speed roads (50 mph) with lots of lane changes.
4th: Highway driving. “You’ll stay on the right side of the highway, so the driver gains exposure to merging into lanes and other cars merging into their lane,” says Primack.
5th: Tackling steep hills as well as what to do in emergency scenarios and bad weather.
Talk It Out
Primack asks new drivers how they think something should be done before they do it. As you’re approaching a red light where you want the driver to make an unprotected left, ask your driver to talk you through what he or she will do when the light turns green. It helps them think through their actions ahead of time.
Since failure teaches valuable lessons, Primack also lets new drivers make small, safe mistakes in low-risk settings—like asking the person to change lanes when there aren’t other cars around. Then he’ll ask how they think it went and what they would do differently the next time.
Know When To Hit The Brakes
Monitor your friend’s reactions throughout the lesson. Watch for how tightly they’re gripping the steering wheel, if they’re breathing heavily (or holding their breath), if they are stiff or wide-eyed. These might be signs they need a break. Periodically ask how they are doing and, if you sense stress, pull over, step out of the car for a breather, then resume when you’re both calm. If bickering starts, take a longer break or reschedule the lesson for a different day. And note: If teaching your friend becomes too difficult, they may need a pro. In that case, you can still provide great emotional support.
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By Sarah Bruning