For parents conducting parent-teen driving lessons, there is a driving technique that can greatly help your teenage driver with their driving skills, and thus relieve you of parental anxiety.
It is called “commentary driving” and is a huge benefit for teenage drivers having a hard time concentrating while driving or if their safe-driving skills need some serious work.
Just like learning a new language, commentary driving can be difficult initially for student drivers, especially for shy, anxious teenagers. But with practice, it can prove immensely helpful in:
- Honing your child’s observational driving skills (i.e., spotting hazardous situations)
- Fine-tuning their ability to ward off mental distractions and keep a tight focus on the task at hand
- Reinforcing safe driving habits
Commentary Driving: What you Need to Know
1) Commentary driving is a precautionary, safe-driving measure
Commentary driving is when a student driver says aloud her observations of the traffic situation, what she is thinking, and the driving techniques she plans to employ, as called for by the circumstances that have evolved and are still evolving.
Commentary driving is encouraged to inculcate in your teenage driver a sense of foresight by being observant and keenly aware of her surroundings, hence the ability to react fast and accordingly.
2) Commentary driving can be used for all traffic situations
Commentary driving works for any situation, such as when stopping, at junctions or roundabouts, when with cyclists, at pedestrian crossings, or when passing parked cars.
Teenage drivers should also verbally acknowledge the road signs and markings they see, other drivers following too closely or changing lanes illegally, the traffic lights ahead, and even their current speed, including when they plan to ease off the gas or accelerate.
3) Commentary driving is encouraged, no matter your child’s skill level
Commentary driving is best suited for students who have already mastered the basic driving skills and maneuvers. It can, however, also be incorporated for a limited time during the earlier lessons to sharpen student observers’ visual skills and strengthen their safe driving habits.
How to Encourage your Teenager to Talk While Driving
1) You cannot teach what you do not know
Because teens learn better through demonstrations, as parent-coach, make sure to model the technique well before asking your teenager to have a go at it.
2) Start small
Practice commentary driving in relatively simple situations before advancing to more complex environments.
3) Encourage your teen driver to be specific
Vague language such as “checking ahead” does not help with your child’s awareness level. The commentary should be specific to the situation your teenager is in.
For example, check out the following series of commentary:
- "Checking mirrors, left mirror, cyclist too close by, let them pass, ease off gas"
- "Intersection ahead, green light, checking mirrors, no cars behind, approaching intersection, light still green, checking intersection left and right, all clear, crossing intersection"
4) Resist the urge to interject
Unless it is absolutely necessary, resist the urge to verbalize your own observations or ask questions. Doing so distracts your teenage driver from focusing on the situation in front of them. Worse, it may discourage them from voicing their own thoughts and rely on other people’s observations.
Instead, log all your comments in a notebook and discuss them with your child after the practice session, when the car is safely parked.
5) Be supportive instead of critical
Especially in the beginning, your teenage driver may find it extremely difficult to talk while driving. Don’t get mad or lose your patience whenever they stop commenting. Instead, encourage them to keep going by asking them to tell you what they see and what they plan to do.
6) Know when it is time to call it a day
When your student driver starts showing signs of fatigue or stops commenting despite your numerous prodding, it may be time to end the lesson. Emphasize that when a driver stops commenting, their hazard-spotting abilities and alertness levels go down significantly.
Commentary driving, when properly implemented, helps your teenage driver become a safer driver. Remember though that it takes time and requires a good dose of patience before they can fully master the technique.