Teach Your Teen to Drive Lesson 6: Merging, Yielding and Passing

Timing is everything when deciding when to enter, exit, join, or cross traffic. Most of these decisions occur at intersections—whether turning left, turning right, or going straight across the intersection. New drivers have to learn to judge the time or “gaps” between vehicles in order to make safe decisions.

Follow our weekly summer series on teaching your teen how to drive — sharing these important driving tips in small doses may help you and your teen cover more ground.

Completing Driving Maneuvers

Some drivers, especially new ones, have difficulty judging the time and distance required to make maneuvers in traffic. When turning onto a street or going straight across an intersection, it’s important to make sure your teen allows enough room to complete what was started, accelerate to the proper speed, and watch out for pedestrians and stopped vehicles. Merging and changing lanes requires that your new driver think about keeping a good amount of space all around their vehicle. And they must remember to yield to ongoing traffic.

Your Role as Driving Instructor

Try to lead your teenager through changing lanes one step at a time. Try having them identify gaps for you as you drive, telling you whether the space is safe to move into or not. You might even give your teen a watch to actually time the gaps.

When your teen is driving, have them tell you what gap should be selected before they actually move into that space. Then say “yes” or “no” before the move is made. Once you have practiced this, your driver should be able to move around safely in all kinds of traffic. Convince your new driver to avoid taking unnecessary risks, to allow extra room when doing anything for the first time and above all, to be patient and wait for the best time to go.

Sometimes, a change in direction is needed. For example, if your teen is having trouble turning left across a very busy street, they might turn right and then make a K-Turn where it’s safe to do so.

Critical judgments are required for passing, so carefully choose the right time to practice this skill. Begin by having your new driver master passing other vehicles on a multi-lane road before attempting to pass on a two-lane road — which, depending upon traffic patterns in your area, you may choose not to encourage at all. If possible, have someone else in your family drive another vehicle so your teen can practice passing and being passed.

Common Problems

Uncontrolled intersections, or intersections controlled only by yield or stop signs are the most difficult for new drivers. Making a right turn on a red light is another challenge, one that you might simply advise against unless there is no traffic with which to merge. When your inexperienced driver selects a good gap in traffic, make sure they accelerate to a desired speed as soon and as safely as possible.

New drivers have a tendency to slow down when changing lanes, which is the opposite of what they should do. Remind your new driver not to slow down in most lane-change maneuvers. If your teenager is moving too slowly, an acceptable gap may soon become unacceptable. Watch to make sure your teen is not concentrating so much on the maneuver that they forget to watch out for other vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Key Lessons

  • Gap selection is always difficult and a skill that must be practiced.
  • Practice on multi-lane roads.
  • Maintain speed when moving into a gap.

Places to Practice

Practice passing on roads with little traffic before practicing in heavier traffic, where your teen will find more difficult gap selections, such as changing lanes and passing. First, have your teen select gaps for you when you are driving so they do not have to follow through on them, then talk about what was correct and what was incorrect about those selections. Do as much of this practice as possible on side streets before moving into heavier and/or faster traffic.

Next week’s lesson: Communicating On The Road