Let’s hop into a time machine and go back to when you were a teen driver. Take a moment to remember how well you were able to stop and start your car. Do you remember how it lurched forward when you gave it a little too much gas when the light turned green? Do you remember that four-way stop sign coming up a little quicker than you thought it would? How applying the brake quickly made the seat belt (you were wearing one, right?) tighten across your chest as gravity pulled you forward for a few seconds before it tugged you back to your seat?
Wasn’t so easy, was it? But you learned that instead of applying direct pressure on the brake as hard and as fast as you could, squeezing the brake, applying gradual pressure, worked out better for you. Eventually your stops became less like a herky-jerky rollercoaster pulling into the loading area and more like a boat gently docking in a pier—smooth sailing. Pretty good, right? Now let’s come back to the present.
Depending on how much your teen has practiced, they may still be in the herky-jerky phase. Most of the time this happens because they’re not anticipating things like the stop sign at the end of the block, the stale yellow light or the car on the side of the road pulling into traffic.
Get your teen in the habit of scanning the road. They’ll be able know when they need to brake and how to do it slowly but firmly—and not too early—so that the car comes to a smooth stop. The idea is to get them as comfortable as possible so it becomes second nature.
But what about those sudden stops that not even experienced drivers can anticipate? The guy backing out of a hidden or obscured driveway, the deer darting across the road or the frazzled commuter who suddenly decides to cut in front of your teen to “get around” traffic? There’s no smooth braking here.
Sudden stops can get any driver’s heart racing, but if we were to get back into that time machine for a moment, you’d find your teen probably has an advantage you didn’t have. We’re not going to make anyone ‘fess up to their age, but there’s a good chance the car you learned to drive did not have anti-lock brakes. ABS was an option on some luxury cars in the late ‘70s and ‘80s and became more common in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s. Now, all new cars in the U.S. are required to have ABS. But do you know what it does?
In cars without ABS, drivers needed to pump the brake rapidly to avoid skidding and losing control. With ABS, a wheel sensor detects when your brakes are locking up. To prevent skidding, ABS rapidly applies and releases the brakes—you may feel a pulsating sensation from the pedal. Because the ABS is taking care of the skidding, you can maintain control and steer the vehicle to safety.
In optimal conditions when roads are dry and in good repair, ABS can decrease stopping distance significantly . However, when the road is slick, stopping distance can actually increase. This is why drivers should never rely exclusively on ABS to brake the car in time—instead, use the added control to steer to safety.
These are important things to teach your teen. If you have a new car, there are more safety and technology features that were not available when you were learning to drive. You want to make sure you’re familiar with these features so you can pass that knowledge along to your teen.
The National Safety Council has partnered with the University of Iowa to create a new resource for drivers called MyCarDoesWhat.org. On this site, you can learn more about ABS and other safety features that may be on your car. It’s a great tool for familiarizing yourself with this new technology to make sure you’re prepared to coach your teen and answer any questions they might have.
Technology is progressing quickly and some of these features are impressive, but no feature can replace judgment and experience. The best lesson you can give your teen is that they are the driver and they’re in control of the car. Teach them to use the features properly, make sure they have the fundamentals down and over time, with practice, they’ll become the safe driver you want them to be.