Teach Your Teen to Drive Lesson 5: Safe Space and the Vehicle

Spacing, or positioning, calls for keeping a cushion of space around the vehicle and yielding to the space requirements of others. Help your teenager learn how much space to leave to the right and left of the vehicle. A new driver will soon find that oncoming, passing, or parked vehicles can take away lateral space — space to the left and right of the vehicle.

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.

Position Your Vehicle Properly

Help your teenager see that the best use of space involves positioning the vehicle properly on all sides. Your new driver will soon see that it is necessary to position the vehicle as far away as possible from hazards or potential conflicts without disrupting the traffic flow. Make sure they understand that jumping across the center line just to get past a parked vehicle can create a dangerous situation. In some instances, the vehicle must be placed between two hazards if the available space is very narrow. After practice, your teen should begin to realize the need to adjust speed constantly to maintain a proper space cushion to the sides.

Your Role as Driving Instructor

New drivers can be confused when trying to abide by all the different space requirements. For example, you may find yourself saying, “keep right to avoid oncoming vehicles” and then, “keep left to avoid parked vehicles.” So, what happens if your new driver faces oncoming traffic and parked vehicles at the same time? If the risk is about equal, it may be best to steer a middle course between the oncoming vehicles and the parked vehicles. This may not leave as much of a space cushion as desired, but still enough space to react to sudden moves from either side.

When space is not adequate between hazards, advise your new driver to handle one hazard at a time. Use space to be able to maneuver, change directions and avoid tight places. For example, on a narrow bridge, rather than meeting an oncoming vehicle, it’s best to slow a bit to let the other vehicle go over the bridge first.

Common Problems

New drivers have a tendency to drift toward oncoming vehicles, especially on higher speed multi-lane roads. That’s because they sometimes concentrate so hard on the oncoming vehicle that they fail to check their own vehicle’s intended path.

Blind Spots
Make sure your teen understands that driving in the “blind spot” of other vehicles could be very dangerous. You can safely make your teen aware of blind spots while your vehicle is parked. With your teenager in the driver’s seat, walk around the vehicle and ask them to tell you when you are not visible in the rearview and side mirrors. As you are driving, you could point out vehicles that might be in the blind spot, as well as when your teen drives in this dangerous position.

Parked Vehicles
Even parked vehicles can present a problem. Inexperienced drivers tend to believe that parked vehicles will always stay parked and often do not leave enough space for them. Encourage your teen to move away from anything parked and to check for indications that these vehicles might be pulling out by:

  • Looking for turned wheels
  • Exhaust coming out the back of the vehicle
  • A driver behind the wheel
  • Brake lights/turn signals
  • Doors opening

Remind your new driver that parked vehicles also hide pedestrians who may not be checking before crossing the road — children who may run out into the road or adults who have other things on their mind.

Key Lessons

  • Maintain space on all sides of the vehicle.
  • Handle one hazard at a time.
  • Be aware of blind spots.

Places to Practice

Try to practice use of space with parked vehicles on quiet side streets or in neighborhoods without children playing near the road, then progress to more heavily traveled streets with pedestrians, bicycles and oncoming vehicles. As you and your teen move on to multi-lane streets, you can continue to work on keeping a space cushion with vehicles beside you — both moving and parked. Your teen will build practical safe driving experience with a strong foundation.

Next week’s lesson: Merging, Yielding and Passing