Back in June, I introduced the idea of Commentary Driving for teen drivers with learning challenges. Because I am certified as a driving instructor for drivers with special needs, I have a big toolbox of techniques to coach each driver as an individual. What I have found is that many of the specialized methods for training drivers with learning challenges are extremely helpful for a wide variety of students of every ability.
Commentary driving is really one of those game changers for the entire Safe Driving Coach organization. Though it’s a skill we often apply with drivers who need to process what they are learning in a specific way, it has become a standard approach that our coaches use with any number of students.
Today’s Teens Are Overstimulated
Kids and teens today simply don’t have enough time to be bored. They are extremely busy with school, extracurriculars, sports, and part-time jobs. When they do have downtime, most of them spend it in front of a screen. Phones especially are a big part of the teenage social experience, and it has changed the way they process information. Research is still pretty young in this area, but a 2017 review of multiple studies exploring the connection between phones and cognitive functioning produced some noticeable trends.
Some of the findings include:
Phone notifications, seeing someone else use a phone, and even the sight of a phone on a table correlated to distraction from tasks or reduced performance on a task.
Reading and writing text messages while driving is associated with slow reaction times, veering from the lane of travel, and a higher rate of crashes.
Some indications that “addictive” phone habits reduce long-term attention spans (more time is needed to see how this bears out).
Dependence on technology to store information correlates with remembering less information.
Navigation devices may be associated with a reduced ability to remember and recognize the physical environment.
The research is going to deepen over the next decade or so, but the power of observation is available to us in the meantime. From overthinking, to tunnel vision, to anxiety, today’s teen drivers are exhibiting the symptoms of being overstimulated! As coaches and parents, we can use these observations to look for ways to help our kids relax in general. But when there is a time-sensitive goal to learn to drive and acquire a driver’s license, we need to work with exactly what we have in that moment. This is where commentary driving is a crucial skill for parents and coaches to deploy in driving lessons for any teen who is struggling to focus and communicate while driving.
Commentary Driving Reduces Noise, Improves Processing
In the standard method of coaching, the driver answers multiple questions throughout the lesson. These questions are intended to help the student driver pay attention to the important aspects of driving. We ask what they see, what are the signs telling them, what they anticipate up ahead, etc.
For many teen drivers, these questions have the opposite effect. The student is too distracted trying to answer the question that they lose focus on what they are doing. While we see this a lot with teens who have ADHD or Autism, it is becoming more common as a general trait. Commentary driving is becoming a universal technique for driving coaches whenever the standard question method is not gaining in success.
In commentary driving, we ask the student to verbalize their thoughts while driving. We get the same information - what they see, what they hear, what they are anticipating, etc. - but they are sharing their immediate thoughts rather than responding to a direct question. By allowing the student to talk about what’s already prominent on their mind, they have fewer distractions and can more fully process their driving experience. This technique is truly a disruptor to traditional driving instruction, and it’s highly effective for both parents and professional driving coaches! I have spoken with several parents who report that they looked up how to do commentary driving after their teen stated a preference for it in Safe Driving Coach lessons, and they said it changed the entire experience for the better.
Proven Tools to Learn Safe Driving Skills
One of my favorite things about being a driving coach is that I have so many opportunities to continue my own learning journey. I have enough experience to know what foundational skills are necessary for becoming a safe driver and that being flexible to various learning styles will maximize success. I’m thrilled to see how this coaching technique is benefiting so many students, coaches, and parents. If you need support in coaching your teen driver, check out our exclusive Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers. If you need to take it a step further, sign up for Safe Driving Lessons with one of our professional coaches. We are more than happy to work with you on ensuring that your teen becomes a competent, experienced driver without frustration or fear.