If experience is the best teacher, there’s no better driving instruction than from AAA. For more than 80 years, AAA has educated young drivers on how to stay safe behind the wheel. All training is based on data acquired from decades of AAA traffic safety research.
But all that wisdom and guidance has to come from a teacher. That’s where AAA driving instructors come in. Nobody knows how to teach driving better than these men and women, who have an unparalleled level of experience – and success – in turning new students into lifelong safe drivers.
So who better to go to for advice for new drivers? We spoke with six esteemed AAA driving instructors: Frank Malone, Linda Brookfield, Ray Lamore, Rick Field, Rick Phelan and Susan Moisan. With nearly a quarter-century of driving instructor experience between them, these six have plenty of good driving advice – and a few interesting tales from the road.
What are the top tips you would give a new teen driver to make him/her a better driver?
Frank Malone: Practice. Practice. And practice. Oh, and wear your seatbelt and “use your blinkah.”
Linda Brookfield: 1. Keep the phone off and out of sight. 2. Keep a proper following distance. 3. Stay focused on driving – SIPDE. (Search, Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute)
Rick Field: 1. Slow down to allow time for decisions. 2. Read the Road 3. Look left, right, left until safe to go.
Rick Phelan: Respect the speed limit, use your directional and check your blind spots.
Susan Moisan: Students need to constantly be moving their eyes not just looking at the car directly in front of them. Always use turn signals. Never be in a rush to jump on the gas pedal when the light turns green, someone may be running a red light. Never let another driver intimidate you with a beep of their horn. I tell my students only to make a move when it is safe for them to do so.
What is the best thing about teaching new drivers? What is the worst?
Field: It’s very rewarding to witness students progressing and mastering concepts. The worst experiences are related to parents who fail to prepare and teach basic driving skills prior to the first driving lessons. Many students may have less than 30 minutes behind the wheel with a parent. These students are typically very difficult to teach and it’s an unproductive use of instructor expertise.
Malone: Helping students build confidence is the best part of teaching driver education. The worst part is having to break bad habits they pick up after watching other drivers become lazy role models!
Brookfield: The best thing is seeing students progress. I do my best to explain why we have to do things the way we do in order to be safe on the road. The worst thing is having a student who believes they already know what they’re doing. This is the person who will say “yes” to my instruction, yet continue to do things his or her own way – incorrectly!
Phelan: Interacting with the students and seeing them gain confidence in their abilities is great, but the best thing is getting a happy phone call from the student or parent letting me know they passed their road test or, better still, being with them as they pass! The worst feeling is their disappointment if they happen to fail the road test. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often.
Moisan: Watching a student progress from lesson to lesson is a great feeling. A thank you for teaching me to drive from a student and a text when they pass their roads touches my heart.
What’s the funniest or strangest experience you’ve ever as a driving instructor?
Field: One of the strangest experiences was a student that vocalized at start of lesson, “119,” then later, “118, 117, 116” etc. Eventually I inquired what was going on and he answered, “I am looking at the dash clock and counting down every minute until this lesson is over.” The student was very uncooperative and only taking driving lessons because his mom made him. He preferred to use his bicycle as primary source of transportation. He never finished our program.
Malone: One time I had a student who was nervous about the infamous Kelly Square in Worcester. I took the student through the intersection at noontime, a fairly busy time of day. After having the student enter Route 290 while leaving the square, I said, “I’m not sure why you were so nervous about Kelly Square…you did just fine.” The student was surprised. “That was it?” they asked. Sometimes they get nervous just because of what they hear from others.
Lamore: The other night a student approached a red light at a high rate of speed. I repeatedly asked him to slow down, but he didn’t. Consequently, I needed to apply my brake. The student exclaimed, “You’re chill! My mom would have freaked!” I replied, “Well, your mom loves you and cares about you. She wants to make sure that you’re a safe and cautious driver. But to be honest, I would have freaked if I didn’t have a brake!”