I want all my students, and the other drivers in their family, to be safe drivers. But that word - safe - is really too broad of a term. What exactly does it mean to be a safe driver? To me, it means to be RAD:
These specific words break down the meaning of safe and give my students a mental checklist to gauge how they are doing. Once I teach students what it means to be responsible, aware, and defensive in their driving, they can track those elements on their own.
I have to thank my student, from Upper Dublin High School, Zach Dall, for giving me the idea to create an acronym for safe driving. I just love how the word RAD is a call back to my own teenage years when all the best things were, in fact, rad.
RAD Drivers are Responsible
What does it mean to be responsible as a driver? First and foremost, it means that we understand that we are in command of a machine that has the power to be extremely useful or extremely dangerous.
An irresponsible driver acts selfishly, only concerned about their own vehicle, timing, destination, and priorities. These drivers make the roads less safe because they ignore the danger they pose.
A responsible driver accepts the social and legal contract to act in the best interest of other people and property while operating a car. Their own desire to get somewhere safely and on time manifests by driving in a manner that benefits everyone. Responsible driving is making a conscious effort to prevent dangerous road conditions.
RAD Drivers are Aware
Awareness in driving means we know we are not alone on the road. We are behind the wheel of one car in an environment full of other cars, pedestrians, cyclists, buildings, and other infrastructure. When we make ourselves aware of what else is going on around us, we can take better responsibility (see how these all work together) for how we navigate the task of driving.
Unaware drivers exist in a vacuum. They don’t think beyond their own car, destination, or priorities. They get lost in their thoughts and forget that they are in charge of safely controlling a 2+ ton vehicle. They don’t pay attention to how their actions behind the wheel affect others.
An aware driver recognizes that there is a lot going on around them and pays attention to it. They know that they are one of many people trying to get somewhere, and they keep both their eyes and ears open for what others are doing. An aware driver is vigilant for anything that requires a response on their part and is able to react timely and safely.
RAD Drivers are Defensive
Defensive drivers understand that sometimes they have to compensate for someone else’s lack of responsibility or awareness. They know that even when other drivers are not being safe, or when road conditions are unsafe for other reasons, they still have a duty to do the safe thing.
A reactionary driver often overcorrects in response to a tricky situation. An aggressive driver takes advantage of the chaos to get themselves where they want to go. Both of these kinds of non-defensive drivers make unsafe decisions that put other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists in harm’s way.
Driving defensively means responding to real-time conditions with a level head and averting a crisis with skills that have become second nature. Truly the only way to be a defensive driver is to always be aware of what is going on around the car and accepting responsibility for your own safety and the safety of others.
Coaching Teen Drivers to be RAD
Something I really work to impress upon my teen driving students is that safe driving, or RAD driving, is not about fear! Especially with young and inexperienced drivers, it’s easy to let fear take over when trying to implement safe driving skills. The problem is that fear gives a driver tunnel vision and reduces their ability to be responsible, safe, or defensive.
RAD driving is all about staying calm, practicing the skills until they are hard coded, and believing that you are a competent and safe driver.
If you need some guidance on helping your teen driver get RAD, consider my course just for parents: The Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers. If you’re thinking that the serious job of teaching a teen to be a safe driver is better left to the professionals, consider enrolling your child in Safe Driving Lessons. Our coaches are professionally trained driving instructors who believe that every teen driver is capable of being RAD.