We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

More than parallel parking to driver’s ed

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist April 15, 2011

If I have heard the following statement once, I have heard it a hundred times. “My kid is ready for the driver’s test, all he/she needs to know is how to parallel park.”

The big emphasis on the ability to parallel park is usually for driving test purposes only. Most parents who are solely centred on this manoeuvre are misguided at best and downright neglectful at worst.

There are so many other important activities to teach a new driver. To ignore them, for the purposes of concentrating on an optional skill, is a sin of omission by some well-meaning parents.

Here are some examples of driving tasks worth practising that rank well ahead of any parking requirement on a driving test.

All driving students should know the relative dangers of railroad crossings. They should lower their window a few centimetres before crossing the tracks. Hearing the train whistle is easier when the window is lowered. Trains seem to be travelling at a low speed when they are actually going much faster than the typical driver anticipates.

More people are killed at level train crossings than in plane crashes in most years. This is something that every parent should impart to their kids before the driver’s test.

Most parents would not even know this information. Nor would they be expected to know it. It is all too often the things that are omitted that come back to haunt novice drivers.

Dangerous intersections are far more important to frequent during a practice drive than any parking space. Knowing the top 10 crash sites in any community and practising the driving task in such locations is paramount to any quality driving instruction. More than 50 per cent of vehicle crashes occur at intersections. To spend time parallel parking at the expense of practising at dangerous intersections is doing an injustice to the learning driver.

More fatal crashes occur on the highway than at other locations. Controlling a vehicle at high speed is something that should be practised. New drivers are given the privilege of a driver’s licence without ever going over 50 km/h on a driver’s test. Yet their licence allows them to travel 110 km/h in winter on a freeway.

Learning to share the road with pedestrians and cyclists is one of the most important tasks any new driver should know. The damage a vehicle can do to a pedestrian or cyclist is catastrophic. It is far more important for a new driver to know the rules and regulations concerning crosswalks and bike lanes than to learn to parallel park.

Parents do not intentionally omit these kinds of activities when practising with a novice driver. They naturally think of the testing process as being similar to their own experience, many years ago. It has changed radically over the last several decades.

There should be an opportunity for a new driver to do at least 50 to 60 hours of practice, aside from the professional driving instruction. The practice sessions should be targeted to a few specific tasks in each outing. Driving the same route back and forth to school, shopping, sports or arts venues, is not only boring for the learner but also a poor substitute for quality practice time.

It probably takes about 20 minutes to teach a novice driver the basics of parallel parking. It is not an important driving technique.

It is not associated with death and destruction on our roads. When a parent of a driving student requests a parallel-parking lesson only, it is often a sign that more important driving tasks are not being properly addressed. A sin of omission, indeed.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Interior of B.C.

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