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Learner Driver Know-How

This article isn’t so much about things you need to know if you still have the L plates on your car. This is more about what to do and what not to do if you spot a learner driver on the road near you.

You might wonder why this sort of post is necessary. Shouldn’t we be concentrating on what the learners need to be doing? Well, sort of. The learners out there on the road are doing all that they can to clock up skills and experience, and that sort of thing can only be gained by actually getting out there on the road. And this means that when they’re out there, they’re going to make mistakes. Drivers on P-plates are also going to make mistakes as they still lack experience.
A lot of drivers do get annoyed about L-plate and P-plate drivers. Now, I have to admit that a stroppy teenager on a P-plate who thinks that they are entitled to do as they please and is pushing the limits now that Mum or Dad aren’t in the front passenger seat is a right pain in the butt. But sometimes, P-platers and L-platers earn the ire of experienced drivers by being over-cautious and simply making mistakes. A story from across the Tasman tells the tale of a younger driver being hassled by older drivers because he slowed down and took it slowly and easily in difficult weather conditions. (Note: In New Zealand, they don’t have the P-plate but drivers on their “restricted” licence don’t have to use an L-plate like a learner driver.)


I’m sure of us who have reasonably good memories of their own P-plate days can remember similar things happening. I remember getting the horn from a number of people behind me because I didn’t take small gaps at intersections or roundabouts – I was utterly paranoid about not being able to make it through the gap quick enough (and what if I stalled because I didn’t give it enough accelerator or hadn’t got the right gear?) so I waited for a nice big one to come along rather than taking what I thought was a big risk. It took years for this over-cautious and irritating habit of mine to die and it was finally cured, more or less, by (a) a Saab 9000 with very responsive acceleration that could get into those little gaps and (b) a diesel-powered Isuzu Bighorn that was next to impossible to stall.
So what should you do if you spot a P-plater or an L-plater on the road near you? Here’s a few hints.

• Remember that they’re still learning and will make mistakes. It’s part of learning. Give them a bit of space.
• Don’t harass them by doing the sort of thing described in the story at the link above – overtaking then jamming on the brakes etc.
• Give them time as well as space. If you’re used to tackling intersections at biking or walking speed, you aren’t used to taking smaller gaps. A nervous and timid P-plater who takes their time at an intersection and doesn’t try to take silly risks does not really deserve to have the horn blaring, let alone the one-finger salute or a barrage of abuse out the window. The more aggressive P-plater who charges into an intersection expecting to get into a ridiculously small gap and who makes you hit the brakes hard does deserve a good honking, though. But just keep it to the honk.
• If you’re the parent of a P-plater, you still need to be there and provide some instructions now and again if your teen is going to be tackling something they haven’t done before (e.g. off-roading, driving in extreme weather conditions, going on an interstate road trip). Ride with them now and again to make sure they haven’t picked up any bad habits. On this topic, have a chuckle at this road safety video from the other side of the Tasman. Sound familiar?