Now that they have their Ls

By Dr Bridie Scott-Parker


Your teen passed the theory test and has a Learner licence. What now?

The key is to start slow, and practise, practise, practise. As any experienced driver will tell you, you are unlikely to experience the same journey every time you drive. Even on regular routes, you will share that space with different people (not just drivers and cyclists, but also potential hazards like pedestrians walking their dogs). The environment will be different, for example, 5 pm on a Friday afternoon in winter is very different to 5 pm on a Friday afternoon in summer). As the driver, you will act and feel differently (you may be feeling stressed, tired, or distracted by a passenger, or you may be changing the radio station on your car’s stereo).


It is important also to think about how your teen is sharing the road. My own 16-year-old daughter’s time in the car over the past 15 years had been spent in the car’s rear seat, usually with her attention focused within the car (colouring books were a favourite before the iphone and laptop). It was important that she spend some time in the front seat looking through the windscreen and using the rear-vision and side mirrors to actually see the road in a completely different light. Not only would she now have control over the use of our vehicle, she also would have to watch everyone else and how they used their vehicles. This simple change alone can take some adjustment time, so don’t be afraid to do some ‘commentary drives’ before your teen actually sits behind the wheel.

During the commentary drive, an experienced driver is behind the wheel, and rather than automatically scanning the environment and making driving decisions based on goals and risks, the driver speaks aloud so that the front seat passenger can see the same context, and learn where they should focus their attention, and what information is needed to make decisions. So rather than stopping at a STOP sign, checking both ways, and driving through the junction when it is safe to do so, you will say something like:

‘We are coming up to a STOP sign, which means we will have to stop our car, so I am checking that the driver behind me is also slowing down while I slow down. STOP signs are used to keep drivers safe, so we must be sure that we stop close to the solid white line so that we can see traffic from all directions. Now we have stopped, I check the road to my right to make sure that there are no cars or trucks, which are easy to see, but I am also looking for motorcycles and cyclists that are more difficult to see. Having checked to my right, I check the front (if relevant) and check my left. Before I pull out, I am going to quickly check the right, the front and the left again, and while I am driving out I will keep checking through windows and mirrors that we are safe to keep driving.’

You should also start driving in quiet environments where you are unlikely to encounter other road users. Not only will your teen feel more relaxed knowing that other people are not going to be watching them as they bunny-hop, stall, or drive into a gutter (all of which is perfectly normal), you will feel reassured that you have reduced the chance of being involved in a crash.


Dr Bridie Scott-Parker, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Research Fellow, Adolescent Risk Research Unit (ARRU), is considered an expert in the domain of young novice driver road safety. Bridie is interested in a safe systems approach to young driver road safety, intervention development and evaluation, with a particular focus upon the development of the driver from the pre-licence period, through the Learner and Provisional 1 driving phases. She is also interested in adolescent risk taking, and the influence of personal, social (parents, peers), and structural (legislation, police) influences upon risky behaviour.

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