When working with a student driver, coaches need to maintain a lot of situational awareness. The coach is responsible for observing everything going on outside the car as well as monitoring the student’s behaviors, questions, and non-verbal cues. Then coaches must allow their observations to inform how they interact with the driver. It takes a lot of practice!
In all my years of lessons, one thing that I’ve always paid close attention to is how a teen driver responds to my questions while they are actively driving. When I recognize that the teen driver is easily overwhelmed by dialogue, it’s a signal that I need to adjust my coaching to work with the student’s strengths. This is where commentary driving comes in, and I highly recommend it to parent coaches who are struggling with communication in lessons.
How Are Questions Used in a Driving Lesson?
In a standard driving lesson, the coach asks a lot of questions. These questions are never intended to trick the driver. Rather, they are a tool for helping the driver stay alert to all the different things happening at once. These questions help the driver scan the environment, verbalize their decisions and actions, and stay focused on the present. Some of my most common questions are:
What are the signs telling you?
What color is the car behind you?
What’s the speed limit?
They are simple questions, but they help the driver remember what they are supposed to be doing at any given moment. With some teens, these questions are more distracting than instruction. If a teen has ADD, ADHD, or other learning challenges, they are working hard to pay attention to their driving task, and the questions can stress their processing centers. If the teen shows signs of stress when I initiate dialogue during a lesson, I know that we need to adapt to something more helpful.
What is Commentary Driving?
Commentary driving moves communication from dialogue to monologue. Rather than answer questions, the student will verbalize what they see and what they are doing throughout the lesson. This tells the coach what the teen driver is processing and what they might be missing.
The coach will minimize their own talking and use simple reminders like, “Talk to me about what you see ahead” to keep the teen driver alert. Since the teen driver only needs to talk about the things they already see and think, they do not get overwhelmed by having to think of an answer to a question.
Research shows that commentary driving helps students react quickly to and avoid driving hazards. Driving coaches can keep track of things that the student misses and bring them up at the end of the lesson. These items can be reviewed again at the beginning of the next lesson to help the student progressively grow their awareness of driving conditions.
Student First Driving Lessons Produce Safe Drivers
While there are definite standards and procedures to coaching a new driver, it is never an exact formula. Good coaches see each student as an individual and adapt their style to what will be most productive for the situation. If you are struggling to communicate well with your teen driver, a simple adjustment could make all the difference. Check out The Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers to learn more ways to coach your teen through driving lessons. If your teen has learning challenges, consider professional safe driving lessons. We are trained and certified to support teen drivers with techniques that are specific to their needs.