Now Let’s get you into the driver’s seat, so you can get a glimpse of what it looks like when you’re behind the wheel. Of course, you’ve probably grown up being transported in cars, have been in the front seat of a car a thousand times, and seen it all before—the dashboard with all its instruments and lights, and the various levers and switches, etc.
But now you need to take a closer look. You need to learn to identify and understand how to read and make sense of all those instruments and controls in front of you. Please note that our descriptions here of the various devices can only be in very general terms, because there are so many different makes and models of cars. That’s why it’s important for you to become familiar with the owner’s manual of the car you will be driving. It is an invaluable resource for the exact details about everything in that particular car.
In our discussion, we will be providing information relating to cars with an automatic transmission, not those with manual transmission (“stick-shift”) cars. This is because the vast majority of cars made today are automatics. Even if you think you’d like to drive a stick-shift in the future, all the driving professionals say it’s best to learn how to drive on an automatic first; once you’re experienced, it’s much easier to learn how to drive the stick.
Once we’ve gone through all the instruments and devices you need to know about, then at the end of this module, we’ll go through the steps you will take to start a car. (No, you can’t just flip a switch; there’s more to it than that.)
There is, though, indeed a switch involved in starting a car. The ignition switch (the “starter”) starts the engine, and also supplies power to many of the electronic devices in the car. In most cars, the ignition switch is on the right-hand side of the steering column, between the steering wheel and the dashboard.
In older cars, and in many new cars, the switch has a keyhole, and works like a typical lock — you put the key in and turn it to start the car.
When you turn a key-based ignition switch all the way off, you can take the key out. In many cars, the steering wheel will be locked when the key is in the off position, and in cars with an automatic transmission, (which is what the vast majority of cars made today are) you need to move the shift lever to P (“Park”) in order to take the key out.
When you turn the key one or two clicks forward, some or all of the car’s electronic devices will have power. In many cars, there are two such positions: the first one turns on power for some devices, such as the audio system, while the second position turns on power for all electronic devices.
When you turn the key all the way forward, the engine starts. Once the engine has started, you should let go of the key. It will turn back a little bit and stay in the position that it needs to be in when the engine is running. Don’t keep holding the key in the forward position once the engine has started — if you do, it may damage the starting system.
Most recent cars use keys that have built-in electronic devices which the car can recognize — the car will only start if you have a key with the right electronic identification. The key itself will usually have buttons which you can press to lock or unlock the doors and to unlock the trunk.
Many recent cars have fully electronic ignition systems that don’t require an actual key — all they need is a “smart key” which the car recognizes. You only need to have the smart key in your pocket or purse, or somewhere in the car. In a typical car with a smart key, you would do something like the following: place the transmission in P (“Park”) and hold your foot down on the brake pedal until the light on the “Engine Start” button on the dashboard turns green, then press the button to start the engine. Depending on the type of car, there will be ways of setting the start button to do things such as turning on power for electronic devices without turning on the engine.
Ah yes, there’s the steering wheel. It’s not hard to find — when you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, it’s the big wheel right in front of you.
The steering wheel is attached to the car by the steering column. The steering wheel and the steering column usually have several other control devices attached to them.
There may, for example, be a cruise control lever/switch. Cruise control allows you to drive the car at a constant speed without using the gas pedal. It can be useful on long stretches of highway with little traffic, but it generally isn’t suited for city driving, heavy traffic, or situations where you need to change speed frequently.
There may also be controls for tilting or telescoping the steering wheel; you can use these controls to put the steering wheel in a position that is comfortable for you.
On some vehicles, there may also be controls for the audio system or for your mobile phone mounted on the steering wheel. It is important to not accidentally activate these controls, or otherwise allow yourself to be distracted by them.
There will be two pedals on the floor near your feet, and the pedal that’s farthest to the right is the accelerator pedal — or as everybody calls it, the gas pedal (because it controls how much gasoline is sent to the engine). The main thing that you need to know about it is that when you press your foot down on it, the engine runs faster and the car goes faster, and when you take your foot off of the gas pedal, the engine and the car slow down to a basic “idle” speed.
The pedal on the far left is the brake pedal. When you press your foot down on it, the brakes slow the car down. The brakes do this by pressing against a surface inside the wheel mechanism, in the same way that bicycle brakes press against the sides of the wheels.
The Transmission / Shift Lever
The transmission is the mechanical system that uses the power from the engine to turn the car’s wheels.
The purpose of shifting gears is to allow the car’s wheels to turn faster or slower without having to always speed up or slow down the engine. It’s a basic part of driving, and it’s usually pretty simple and easy to do.
The shift lever may be on the steering column, but more often, it sticks up from the raised section of floor to the right of the driver’s seat. To shift, you usually press a button on the shift lever and hold it in, moving it forward or backward (and sometimes a little bit to the left or right) according to the shift pattern, which is usually clearly visible, with each shift position indicated by a letter or number.
Here are the basic automatic transmission shift positions:
No power is going to the wheels, and no matter how fast you run the engine, the car won’t move. When you start the car or stop the engine, the car has to be in Park. You need to be careful, however, since putting the car in Park doesn’t always keep it from rolling a bit. When you park the car, you should also use the parking brake, which we’ll describe a little later.
It’s just what it sounds like. You put the car in Reverse if you need to back out of a parking space or drive backward. Driving in reverse can be tricky, so be careful.
This also keeps the power from going to the wheels, but unlike Park, it doesn’t prevent the car from rolling at all. It’s the gear that you put the car in when you need to push it or tow it.
This is the gear that you’ll use almost all of the time. It’s the everyday driving gear, and you can use it in slow or fast traffic, on streets or on open highways, while moving, or while stopped at a light. You can leave the car in Drive when you put on the brakes at an intersection or a light.
3, 2, and L
Third, Second, and Low Gear
These are slow gears — Third is slower than Drive, Second is slower than Third, and Low is the slowest of all. You don’t really need to use these gears in everyday driving — when the car does need to shift into a lower gear (for example, when you’re driving uphill), it will take care of shifting by itself, going in and out of low gears when it needs to. These gears are available if you need them, but you rarely will.
Hand Brake/Emergency Brake/Parking Brake
The hand brake is a large lever with a button on the end, it is usually located on the raised section of floor just to the right of the driver’s seat. If the gear shift is also on the floor, the hand brake lever will be behind and to the side of the shift lever. To use the hand brake, pull up on it forcefully as far as it will go. It will stay in place until you press the button at the tip to release it, then lower it while holding the button in.
The hand brake serves two functions. In day-to-day use, it serves as a parking brake. Putting a car in “Park” isn’t always enough to prevent it from rolling, so when you park, particularly on hills or other surfaces that are not level, you should use the hand brake as well.
The hand brake is also called an emergency brake, because you can use it to stop the car if the regular brakes fail under most circumstances. (If for some reason the hand brake also doesn’t work in an emergency, you may be able to stop the vehicle by placing it in as low a gear as possible, then stopping the engine.)
Turn Signals (“Blinkers”)
Now look at the steering column. Remember, we learned that you must activate the turn signal at least 100 ft. before a turn or lane change. So, here’s the device you need to do that:
There will usually be at least two long levers sticking out from behind the steering wheel itself, on both the left and the right. The lever on the left controls the turn signal. When you pull it to the down position, the left turn signal on the rear of your car will flash. When you lift it to the up position, the right turn signal will flash. When it is the middle position, neither signal will flash.
The turn signal will also automatically return to the middle (off) position after you have completed a turn, but that won’t happen when you have completed a lane change, because you haven’t actually move the car in a new direction, so you will have to cancel the turn signal manually. This is important to remember, because when people forget to turn off their turn signals, other drivers become confused about their intentions.
The knob to turn the headlights on or off is very often at the tip of the turn signal lever, although on some cars, it may be mounted on the dashboard. When it is on the turn signal lever, you turn the knob forward to turn the headlights on, and back toward you to turn the headlights off. If the knob is on the dashboard, you turn it to the left or right. The headlight switch may also have settings to control the daytime running lights and the other interior and exterior lights without turning on the headlights. It may also have a separate “fog light” setting for driving in heavy rain or fog. Daytime Running Lights
Daytime running lights look like ordinary headlights, but are smaller and dimmer. Just as their name implies, they are lights that are on whenever you’re running the car in the daytime. They are turned on automatically when you turn on the ignition, and are not actually intended to help you see, but rather are intended to help others on the road see you.
You must, however, remember to always turn on the headlights at night, or even in the daytime when there is so little light outside that it is difficult to see.
High Beam Control
Normally, when you turn the headlights on, they will use a “low beam”. This allows you to see the road in front of you without shining into the eyes of the other drivers. Under circumstances (if, for example, you are driving on a rural road or highway with no other drivers in sight), you may want to use the “high beam” setting.
When you turn the high beams on, the headlights are brighter, and are aimed farther ahead, rather than at the road directly in front of you. This allows you to see for a longer distance, but it can also blind oncoming drivers. For this reason the law requires you to switch back to low beams when you are within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle, and when you are 300 feet behind any vehicle you are following (bright lights in the rear view of the car ahead can also be blinding).
On most cars, one of the small icons (or warning lights) on the dashboard will light up to show you that you have your headlights are on. The same is true for the high beam lights. That light is usually a very bright blue, to catch your attention—so that when you are using high beams and you see a car approaching, you will remember to switch to low beams until the other car passes.
It isn’t just out of courtesy or because the law says that you should dim your lights in order not to blind the other driver, it’s also an essential safe driving practice that will keep you from being involved in an accident that could be caused by a momentarily blinded driver.
Windshield Wiper Controls
The long lever on the right of the steering column controls the windshield wiper system. To turn the windshield wipers on, you typically move the lever to a lower position; there may be three or more speed settings for the windshield wiper. There will also be a settings to temporarily use the wipers, and to spray windshield washing solution onto the windshields, usually by moving the lever forward or toward you, by holding it in the up position.
Mirrors and Mirror Controls
Most cars have one rear-view mirror inside the car, located near the top of the windshield and between the driver and passenger side, and two outside mirrors, one on the driver’s side and one on the passenger side. These mirrors should always be adjusted so that you can see what is going on behind you and to the rear on either side of the car.
You can usually adjust the inside rear-view mirror by hand; it may also have a power adjustment. Many cars have controls on the dashboard for adjusting the outside mirror. In some cars, there are mechanical levers inside and near the doors for adjusting the outside mirrors.
To sound the horn, press on the area near the center of the steering wheel that has the horn symbol. The purpose of the horn is to warn or signal other passengers in situations of low visibility (for example, coming around a blind curve on a very narrow road) or when you need to make rapid and unexpected emergency maneuvers.
This is typically on the dashboard; it’s a round or square button with a red triangle on it, or else a red button with a white triangle.
Use the emergency flasher to indicate that there is a problem with the vehicle, whether it is in motion or stopped. When it is turned on, the outside emergency lights flash on and off, and both the left and right turn signal indicators on the instrument panel flash as a reminder that it is on. The flasher will continue blinking until you turn it off.
The exact location of the emergency flasher switch will vary, depending on the vehicle. It is often to the right of the instrument panel, and may be near the air circulation controls.
To turn the emergency flasher on, press the emergency flasher switch. To turn it off, press the switch again.
The instrument panel is on the dashboard, directly behind the steering wheel. It includes a variety of dials, gauges, and warning lights, all of which are designed to let the driver see the operating status of the vehicle at a glance. The instrument panel is normally illuminated when the headlights are on; there is usually a control on or near the instrument panel to adjust the brightness of the illumination. We will describe individual instrument panel indicators below:
Instrument Panel: Speedometer
The speedometer shows the current speed at which you are driving in miles per hour or kilometers per hour. It is usually a large dial or gauge, typically in the middle or on the right side of the instrument panel, although it may be on the left, and on some cars, it is a digital display.
Instrument Panel: Odometer/Trip Meter
The odometer and trip meter are counters. The odometer displays the total distance that the car has been driven in its lifetime. It cannot be reset. Many cars also have a trip meter (“tripometer”), which displays the total distance that the car has been driven since the meter was reset; this allows you to measure the total driving distance for a specific trip.
Both the odometer and the trip meter are usually displayed together; they often appear below or within the speedometer area. In many vehicles, the odometer and trip meter number display is mechanical, with numbers that “roll over”. In other vehicles, it is electronic. When a trip meter is present, there will be a button or a similar control allowing you to reset it. When the display is electronic, there may also be a button allowing you to switch between the odometer and one or more trip meter displays.
Instrument Panel: Tachometer
Many car instrument panes have a tachometer, which shoes the engine speed in RPM, or revolutions per minute. It is typically a large gauge or meter that looks much like the speedometer, displaying the engine speed in revolutions per minute (or more often, thousands of RPM). There is usually a red region indicating higher engine speeds; running the engine at these speeds may damage it.
In some cars, the tachometer may be a digital display instead of a gauge, or there may be a warning light to indicate excessive engine speed, rather than a meter.
Instrument Panel: Fuel Gauge
The fuel gauge shows how much fuel the car has in its gas tank. It is generally smaller than the speedometer, and its location in the instrument panel depends on the type of vehicle. Typically, it will have a small icon of a gas pump next to it. Electric vehicles will have a gauge showing how much power is available, often displayed in terms of available driving range. Hybrid cars will have both types of gauge.
Instrument Panel: Temperature Gauge or Warning Light
The temperature gauge shows the engine temperature. It may show the temperature in degrees, and it may be marked “H” for hot and “C” for cold, often with a region shown in red indicating a temperature that is in the dangerously high range. Some cars may only have a warning light, which will turn on when the temperature is too high. The temperature gauge or light is usually indicated by a small thermometer icon.
Running the engine when the temperature is too high may damage it, and possibly ruin it. If the gauge shows that the engine temperature is too high, or if the temperature warning light comes on, you should stop the vehicle, let it cool down, and add coolant. If the temperature does not return to normal and stay there after you have done so, you should take the vehicle in for service and repair, rather than continuing to drive it.
Some cars also have oil temperature gauges, which server a similar purpose; they are indicated by a combined thermometer/oil spout icon.
Instrument Panel: Other Gauges, Indicators, and Warning Lights
The instrument panel may include a variety of other gauges, indicators, and warning lights; these will vary, depending on the type of vehicle. The table below lists the most common warning lights and indicators:
This indicates that the battery needs to be recharged or replaced.
Oil can/spout icon
Indicates low oil pressure. If this light goes on and stays on when the engine is running, stop the engine. Otherwise, the engine could be seriously damaged.
This means that something in the engine or one of the associated systems isn’t working properly and needs to be checked by a mechanic.
“Maint” w/wrench or engine icon
Indicates that it is time to take the car in for its scheduled oil change and maintenance.
“Brake” or an icon
This light can come on if the emergency brake is on, or if there is a problem in the brake system (such as low brake fluid).
Car icon with open doors
One or more of the doors is not securely closed.
Gas pump or red dot next to fuel gauge
Fuel is low.
Passenger/seat belt icon
The driver or front seat passenger is not wearing a seat belt.
There may also be several warning lights indicating malfunctions in a specific system, including the air bag, anti-lock brakes, slip control, power steering, and cruise control systems. If an unfamiliar light in the indicator panel goes on and stays on, check the owner’s manual for your vehicle to find out what it means, and what you should do about it.
There may also be reset switches for some of these indicators. Do not reset a warning indicator unless you know that the problem has been resolved.
Vehicle Stability and Traction Control Switch
Some vehicles have built in stability and traction controls, which automatically prevent slipping or other control problems in difficult driving situations. There may be times when you need to turn these controls temporarily off— If, for example, you are stuck in snow or mud, and need to rock the vehicle forward and backward to get out. There will usually be a switch (which may be marked with a “swerving car” icon) that allows you to turn these features off until the next time you start the engine.
Seat Belts Warning
If you sit down in the driver’s or front passenger’s seat, a warning will sound and an instrument panel light will flash until you put your seat belt on.
In most vehicles, the position of the seats is adjustable. When you are driving, it is important to make sure that you can see clearly, and so that you can easily reach the pedals and use the steering wheel. There is usually a forward/back adjustment on the driver’s side near the floor, and a tilt adjustment lever a few inches above it. The head restraints, as we discussed, are also usually adjustable. Of course, you must make these adjustments before you turn the ignition switch and start driving; however, if after the car is in motion, you realize that there needs to be further adjustment, you must wait to re-adjust until you have been able to pull over and stop the car.
As discussed earlier, an airbag-equipped car has a diagnostic function and a Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) indicator light on the vehicle’s dashboard that indicates when there is a problem. This indicator light turns on momentarily while it checks the SRS system. If you don’t see the light come on when you start your vehicle or if the light remains on after starting the vehicle, there could be a problem with the airbag system and you should get it inspected immediately
Hood Release Lever
The hood release lever is usually under the dashboard, typically on the driver’s left side. It releases the main engine compartment cover latch when you pull or press up on it. There is usually a second latch, which can only be released by reaching under the hood itself. You should never use the hood release lever while the car is in motion.
Trunk and Gas Tank Cover Release Levers
The trunk and gas tank cover release levers are usually on the floor of the car just to the left of the driver’s seat. The trunk release lever typically has a car trunk icon on it; it unlocks the trunk, allowing it to open. The Gas tank cover release lever generally has a gas pump icon. It releases the latch on the door that covers the gas tank’s fill pipe. You should not use either of these levers while the car is in motion.
Door and Window Controls
The door on the driver’s side will have a handle or lever for unlocking and opening it from the inside. It will also have either a mechanical crank handle or electric switch for rolling the window up and down. On vehicles with power windows, the switch is typically on the driver’s door arm rest. There may also be switches to control the other windows, and the locks on the other doors.
Directly above the windshield, you will see a sun visor on the driver’s side, and another one on the passenger’s side. You can tilt these down, and often swing them in and out, to keep the sun from shining in your eyes while driving. There are usually mirrors on the backs of the sun visors. Do not use the sun visor mirror to look at yourself while driving.
Air / Heat Controls
The controls for air circulation, heat, and air conditioning are to the right of the instrument panel on most cars. You can control where air blows (down at your feet, directly at you, up behind the windshield, or a combination of these), how strongly the fan blows, and the temperature of the air. There will usually be switches to turn on the air conditioner and the rear-window defroster. You can also control the direction in which air blows from individual air vents by using the controls on those vents.
Besides comfort, there is another important use for the air circulation system. In cold weather, if a film of condensation forms on the inside of the windshield, it can affect visibility. When this happens, you can temporarily set the air circulation system to “Defrost.” The system will then blow hot air directly up onto the inside of the windshield until the condensation evaporates. When you do this, you will usually want to turn on the rear defroster as well.
The vehicle’s audio system is usually mounted directly above or below the air circulation controls. The actual controls for the audio system will vary, along with its capabilities. The most important thing to keep in mind is that it is dangerous to let yourself get distracted by using or adjusting the audio system while you drive.
The overhead light, also known as the dome light, is set into the center of the roof of the car. It has a switch to control when it is on (all of the time, none of the time, only when the door is open). Some vehicles also have a separate interior light set into the roof above the dashboard with its own on-off switch.
Power Outlet/Lighter/Utility Box/Ashtray
In most current vehicles, below or near the air controls and the audio system, there is a power outlet. The type of outlet may vary; traditionally, it takes a single large, round plug, but it may be a USB connector or even another kind of outlet on newer vehicles. You can use it to charge your telephone or other electronic devices. The outlet may be out in the open, or it may be in a compartment behind a small door.
On many older vehicles, this compartment was originally designed as a slide-out ash tray, and the power outlet supplied power to an electric cigarette lighter. You should not attempt to use the power outlet compartment in a current vehicle as an ash tray.
Depending on the type of vehicle, there will be one or more storage compartments of various sizes. The “glove compartment” is usually in the dashboard on the passenger side, and in some vehicles, there is a second compartment above it. There may also be a covered storage compartment between the driver’s and passenger’s seats, as well as one or two cup-holders between it and the gear-shift. The power outlet compartment may also serve as a storage compartment for small objects.
Ready, set, go: Let’s get ready to start the car
We’re going to assume here that you are about to enter a car that either you’ve never driven before, or if you have, someone else has driven it since the last time you did. It’s parked at the curb in front of an ordinary house on a residential street.
Now, to begin at the beginning, let’s recall what we learned earlier about what you have to do before even getting in: you’ve got to walk around the car for a quick inspection to ensure the vehicle you’re about to enter is safe to drive.
OK, you’ve done the walk-around inspection, and now you get in and sit down in the driver’s seat. What’s next?….No, don’t reach for the starter. There’ more to it than that: Here’s what’s got to happen:
Adjust your seat if necessary, either forward or back, plus its height from the car floor
Check If the head restraint is in the proper position (if it’s adjustable in this car).
Adjust all mirrors (the last person who drove the car may have been taller/shorter than you)
OK, now reach for the starter, get the engine running
All that, and we haven’t even got the car moving yet! To accomplish that safely, you’re going to have to go through a few more steps:
Remeber, Nevada law prohibits you from driving without a valid Nevada driver’s license or instruction permit. The following information explains how to conduct basic vehicle manuervers. Never operate a motor vehicle unless you have the proper licensing and/or supervision that is required by law.
Steps to Starting the Car
Switch turn signal on, to the left. You’re going to be moving left into the street.
Put your right foot on the brake and press it down
Change gears from Park to Drive, while keeping brake pressed down
Release the hand brake (the car should have been left with the parking brake on)
Check for traffic behind you—first in mirrors, then quick glance over left shoulder for blind spot
If the coast is clear, slowly lift foot from brake and ease into street, hands at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock
After smoothly entering the street, take foot off brake and press gas pedal to pick up speed.
Practice on a wide residential street with little or no traffic, or in a parking lot with no obstacles or vehicles. Before starting to back up, have your teen turn his or her head to survey the area rather than relying just on the rearview and/or side mirrors, which may not show all hazards. Avoid backing around corners or sharp curves unless there is good visibility in all directions. If your teen seems to have problems backing, have him or her follow the steps below:
Put left hand at the top of the steering wheel.
Place foot on the brake.
Shift to reverse.
Check in all directions for traffic, children, animals, and objects in or moving toward his/her path.
Release the parking brake.
Place right hand on the back of the seat and look over right shoulder through the rear window.
Release the foot brake slowly and apply the accelerator if needed – be ready to brake to control the speed of the vehicle.
Occasionally look quickly to the left.
Move slowly and avoid sudden movement of the steering wheel.
Turn the steering wheel to the right if you wish to back to the right. Turn the steering wheel to the left, if you wish to back to the left.
Press the brake gently to stop.
Shift into park.
Practice turning in a large, open parking lot, or other area without traffic or pedestrians. Practice right turns first.
Before turning, remember that you will need enough time to signal, check traffic, and start the turn. Approach the turn in the right lane, turn into the right lane, and remain in that lane until the turn is completed.
Note: Do not turn wide to avoid creating a hazard with oncoming traffic.
If your teen has difficulty turning right, try the following step-by-step instructions:
Slow down as you approach the turn.
Give a right turn signal.
Check the traffic ahead, behind, and to the sides. At the intersection, look left, right, and left again. If you are merging into a bike lane, look over your right shoulder before merging.
Obey all the signs and/or traffic signals.
Yield to pedestrians.
If possible, place the front of the vehicle two or three feet from the curb before beginning the turn.
Steer hand-over-hand to the right when the front bumper enters the intersection.
End the turn in the lane closest to the curb.
Unwind the steering wheel as the front end of the vehicle enters the proper lane, and then straighten the vehicle in the lane.
Once you have mastered right turns, you can start to practice left turns:
Slow down when approaching the turn.
Obey the signs and/or traffic signals.
Check traffic to the left, right, front, and rear.
Yield to pedestrians.
Signal a left turn as soon as possible without confusing other drivers.
Glance over your left shoulder.
Steer the vehicle into the left turn lane, the left part of the lane, or the left turn center lane.
Slow to a safe speed.
Glance left, ahead, right, and left again.
Never turn the wheel until you are ready to make a left turn.
Glance left and turn the steering wheel to the left to enter the new street.
Glance right. Place your foot over the brake pedal (without pressing down) while turning, even if you can make the left turn without stopping first.
Press the gas pedal as you allow the wheel to straighten in the new street (end the turn in the inside lane).
Note: Do not cut the corner to avoid creating a hazard with oncoming traffic.
Lane changes should be done smoothly and without abrupt or “jerky” movements:
Check the traffic ahead.
Glance in mirrors for breaks in the traffic.
Check the blind spot by looking over your shoulder into the lane you wish to occupy.
Check the mirror and look over your shoulder again to make sure the space is empty.
Change lanes by moving into a break in traffic flow.
Steer to center the vehicle in the new lane.
Turn off the signal.
Problems to Watch for:
Failing to check the rearview mirror.
Failing to look over shoulder.
Checking over shoulder too long while the vehicle drifts from its path or gets dangerously close to vehicles ahead.
Not knowing if there is enough room to change lanes. At first, you should make the judgment for your teen. When your teen is able to look over his or her shoulder and still stay in the lane, have your teen tell you when it is safe to change lanes. Continue requiring a verbal check until you agree with his/her decision.
Keeping Sapce Around the Vehicle
Most drivers do not see “the big picture” as well as they should because they follow too closely and the vehicle ahead blocks their view of the road.
Good drivers maintain a safe “space cushion” to see more of what is happening in traffic. The more space they allow between their vehicle and the vehicle ahead, the more time they will have to see a hazard or collision down the road. They will have more time to stop, or to avoid the problem.
You must always try to keep enough space between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead, to the sides, and to the rear. By doing so, you will have a “bigger picture” of your driving environment. Steering will be easier and the vehicle can travel in the center of the lane instead of hugging one side of the lane or the other.
Keep at least a three-second “cushion” of space when following other vehicles. When the vehicle ahead passes a signpost or other object near the road, count “one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three.” If you pass the same object before completing this count, you are too close. Allow more space.
When crowded by a tailgater, you should allow extra room between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead. Allowing more following distance gives you and the tailgater more time to react in an emergency. When the way is clear, your teen can slow to let the tailgater pass.
Understand that when you follow too closely and another driver “cuts” in front of you, the normal reaction is to slam on your brakes and swerve out of the way. Swerving out of the way most often results in cutting someone else off or possibly driving off the roadway. It might also result in the vehicle behind you crashing into you or other vehicles around you.
If another driver “cuts” in front of you, it is better to just take your foot off the gas. This will give you space between your vehicle and the other driver without swerving into another lane. Do not overreact if you are cut off. Plan your emergency escape route before the emergency happens.
Avoid driving in the blind spot of other drivers. The other driver may not see your teen’s vehicle and could change lanes, causing a collision.