Article and photos by Simon Hill and Steven Bochenek

Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them.

Beating the Roadblocks, by Simon Hill

Following our frightening near-miss with the parked cars and subsequent tailgating trauma, Ian and I had pulled over to ‘take a moment’ out of the car. Sitting in the grass, he confided to me that one of the things that stressed him about driving was the feeling that he wasn’t fully in control of the car, and that a moment’s inattention might cause it to run amok with damaging or tragic results.

Teen Driving Chronicles
Teen Driving Chronicles. Click image to enlarge

I may bear some blame for this, having viewed too many scare-tactic videos with Ian, clips graphically illustrating the importance of seatbelts and responsible driving. But it was still a bit of a revelation: after all, one of the things I like about driving compared to say, horseback riding, is the feeling of being fully in control. It was time to impart this same confidence to Ian, and to do that I grabbed a pile of cardboard boxes and drove us to a large, lightly used parking lot that was once part of Vancouver’s Molson Indy track.

I set up two courses, a tight slalom and an emergency maneuver gate. We started on the slalom, slowly at first and then working up to what Ian reckoned was a pretty good clip. Then I took over for a couple of runs and showed him just how fast you could attack the slalom, and let him have a couple more goes. Even over the course of a few runs his confidence with the steering grew significantly – he become less tentative and more decisive. And we were both having an absolute blast.

The emergency maneuver gate consisted of an approach lane that splits into two short lanes, blocked at the ends. We’d approach at about 40 km/h, and at the last moment I’d point either left or right, and Ian would have to swerve quickly into the appropriate lane and brake hard before hitting the box at the end. Again, his decisiveness with the steering and braking visibly increased over only a few runs, building important muscle memory while also providing a huge boost to my confidence as co-driver.

Unfortunately we still had trouble with manual-transmission hill starts, which was impeding our ability to progress past flat residential roads, and my efforts to get Ian over this particular hump had resulted only in some rather jerky launches and an expensive broken subframe mount.

Expert Help

Teen Driving Chronicles
Teen Driving Chronicles. Click image to enlarge

With Ian’s progress stalled and the family car temporarily out of commission, it seemed a perfect time to call in the experts. As luck would have it, the Mercedes-Benz Academy for New Drivers just opened in Vancouver this spring – the first of several planned Canadian locations – and I was able to book a couple of lessons with them to not only aid Ian’s progress, but also let me see how the experts approach teaching.

Our instructor, Jim Buerk, proved to be cheerful, friendly, and remarkably unflappable. I suppose his experience as a flight instructor likely helps in this regard — once you’ve been exposed to student mistakes in the air, anything that happens on solid ground would seem mild by comparison.

Jim was also very thorough: in a single 15-minute introduction he reviewed everything Ian and I had managed to cover in our first two or three lessons – exterior checks, oil, tires, lights, seat positioning, hand position and motion when steering (hint: the shuffle is only for the Brits – here we cross over), and mirror adjustment (the Mercedes-Benz Academy for New Drivers recommends the SAE approach, which allows much softer shoulder checks, or what Jim calls “shoulder glimpses.” See this helpful article about mirrors and blind spots.

The Academy uses a “coaching” model rather than an “instructional” model, and on the road this meant Jim asked questions rather than giving instructions. “What’s the speed limit on this road?” “What colour is the car behind you?” “Do you see any hazards here?”

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