Driving educators advise new drivers to use caution
Learning to drive can be a daunting task for teens, and a nerve-wracking milestone for their parents. Local driving schools across Butler County emphasize remembering safety and courtesy when first getting behind the wheel.
David Wallisch of Taught Right — Drive Safe School of Driving in Cranberry Township recommends any new driver start with the basics and “book knowledge.”
“They will want to read the material and know the Pennsylvania laws. They want to read the state-provided driver’s manual, you can get that online through the dmv.pa.gov website,” he said. “(You can find) knowledge on what the signs mean, and what the pavement markings mean, and the right-of-way laws and rules and stop signs, where you are supposed to stop and what do you do to proceed and how do you know it’s your turn.”
The next step for many students is learning the controls of a car, which Wallisch recommends doing in a stationary, motionless safe situation.
“I’ve found that (for) a lot of students, because the parents don’t use it, the parking brake gets overlooked,” he said. “A lot of parking lots and driveways are level, and the main benefit of using a parking brake is when you’re parking down a hill, but I want students to be familiar with it and make sure it is on and off.”
When actually driving, Wallisch emphasizes the importance of careful stopping.
“A lot of new students don’t realize how quickly they’re going to get to the point they need to stop, and don’t begin to slow down soon enough,” he said. “If you can see 300 feet ahead and the light is red, you won’t even be close to the traffic light by the time you need to stop.”
When students take lessons with Wallisch, he reminds them to get off the gas sooner and begin slowing down early. He also points out how common a mistake slowing down improperly can be.
“I tell them to look around and see how many cars have dents in the back,” he said.
To qualify for a driver’s license, those who are under 18 must complete 65 hours of adult-supervised driving practice, including 10 hours of nighttime driving and five hours of bad weather driving as well as a six-month waiting period.
While it’s not a requirement for people over 18, Kevin Lenz of Driving In A New America, Inc. (DIANA) in Evans City recommends aiming for 65 hours of training no matter how old a student is.
“I personally think that the 65-hour requirement should be there no matter what the age. Just because someone is 18 doesn’t mean they are a genius,” Lenz said. “I always tell people, you wouldn’t give your kid three or four hours of swimming lessons and then take them out on a boat and throw them in the Atlantic Ocean.”
For parents teaching their teens driving, Lenz said, some outdated or bad habits can inadvertently get passed on to the next generation.
“A lot of parents don’t necessarily teach the right place to stop at a stop sign,” he said. “Most adults tend to do rolling stops at stop signs. I’ve had many times when I have been with a student, and I will say that you didn’t stop at a stop sign, and they will argue with me. You’re supposed to make an 100% stop until you feel the car settling down.”
Lenz added that while parents may have learned to place their hands at “10 o’clock and 2 o’clock” on the steering wheel, a position closer to 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock is now the recommended grip to avoid injury from airbags.
At Elias Driver Training School, a private driving school based out of the city of Butler, Carol Elias explained that young drivers often forget the importance of turning on their headlights.
“There are so many people who think ‘I don’t need my lights to see,’ but I would say 99% percent of the time your headlights should be on,” she said. “People fail to realize others need to see you. You don’t want to be that car in a line of cars on a gray, foggy morning, and everyone’s got their lights on but you, because you’re invisible.”
Driving too close to other cars is another common issue for young drivers, she said.
“People are not courteous. They stop too close,” she said. “You always need to give yourself an escape hatch. You need to see the back tires of the vehicle in front of you—you can’t pull up behind them so close that you can’t see their back tires on the road.”
She recommends that young drivers keep “the big picture” in mind when driving.
“You need to watch the kids playing in a yard, the tractor-trailer eight vehicles in front of you, the little old lady on your left and the man who you think is going to make a right turn, but who doesn’t have a turn signal on,” she explained.
Parents often have questions about the licensing process, Elias said. One misconception she often corrects: driving education teachers are not the ones who administer the driver’s license test itself.
“PennDOT examiners administer the test—we don’t administer the test,” she said. “They will take the student though a variety of small skills, parallel parking being (the most) important one. They do angled parking, three-point turns, and the parallel parking, and if they hit a curb or go over a line, they fail.”