For the ninth, and final drive of my Teaching a Teen to Drive series, we’re going to hit the open road. We’ll be taking a long drive that tests all the skills of the prospective driver. There will be lengthy stretches of the three skills that are important for a new driver to master (in my opinion) – freeway driving, canyon driving, and urban driving.
This is also one of my favorite drives in all of Southern California. It hugs the coastline through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The inland portion that takes you over the San Marco Pass has stunning vistas on both the way up and on the way down. It’s a long drive that covers nearly 175 miles and will take 3-4 hours (or longer) to complete depending on stops.
Canyon and urban driving are the two primary themes of my long drives when I teach a teen to drive. I find that I can mix-in other important driving concepts, such as freeway driving, within these themes.
We’ve already completed two other urban drives in my teaching a teen to drive series. For drive #8, we’re going to do our Urban Driving Final Exam. It will be a mix of congested city streets and freeways. We’ll be navigating the busiest and most challenging freeways around Los Angeles – the CA-110 from Pasadena through downtown LA, the Santa Monica Freeway through the Westside, the 405 over the Sepulveda Pass, and the US-101 through the San Fernando Valley.
After a teen driver has mastered canyon driving and is confident handling a car, I like to spend more instruction time in urban driving situations. Urban driving can be just as challenging as canyon driving, but in a different way. Whereas canyon driving focuses on handling and cornering, urban driving teaches a new driver how to deal with distractions, how to handle obstacles of all sorts (pedestrians, cyclists, kites in the road), and how to navigate congested city streets and stop-and-go freeway traffic.
For drive number 7, we’re going to head down to one of my favorite areas of Southern California, Santa Monica. We’re going to get there using Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1), drive around 3rd Street Promenade, and head back to Camarillo using the I-10, I-405, and US-101 – 3 of the busiest freeways you’ll find anywhere in the United States.
A recurring theme in my teaching a teen to drive series is canyon driving. Navigating narrow roads and tight turns teaches invaluable handling skills. The skills are so fundamental that I focus on them early and often.
For drive number six, we’re going to take one more long drive dedicated to the canyons of Southern California. I consider this drive my final exam for canyon driving. In addition to navigating through three separate canyons, we’re going to go through what I consider one of the most challenging canyon roads in Southern California – Decker Canyon.
Decker Canyon is officially known as CA-23 South starting at the intersection of Westlake Boulevard and Potrero Road. Decker Canyon is narrow. The turns are tight. It has a challenging uphill drive and an even more challenging downhill drive from the center of the canyon to the ocean. It’s one of the few roads I’ve been on that when the sign says take a turn at 25mph, it means 25mph. In some cases, the sign suggests a more aggressive speed than even I’m comfortable taking the turns at, which says a lot.
Bottom line, I’ve found that if the teen driver can confidently navigate through Decker Canyon, there are few canyon roads, if any, that will make them feel uncomfortable.
If you’ve been following along, you know that I like to use the canyons to teach a teen how to drive. There’s so much one can learn in the canyons about handling a car and how it responds to braking and accelerating. These skills come in handy and can be applied in a variety of driving conditions.
In addition to canyon driving, freeway driving is also an essential skill to teach a teen driver, especially if you live in Southern California. Freeways are integral of getting around the area.
So for this drive, which is the halfway point in my series on Teaching a Teen to Drive, we’re going to combine the two into one drive.
There is a progression that I go through when I teach a teen to drive. Basic vehicle operations are the first principle. Then I move on to open road driving which helps build self-confidence in their ability to handle a car. Next comes canyon drives that teach the new driver how to handle and respond to the car. And then I teach freeway driving.
Once we’re through all of those, I move onto to one of the tougher concepts – urban driving. Urban driving entails driving on crowded city streets and freeways. One has to deal with distractions, pedestrians, cyclists, unprotected turns, and erratic, impatient city drivers. I wait to teach this skill because it can be unsettling for a new driver and rattle them. If done too soon, it can kill their self-confidence and make them want to quit. I’ve seen it happen. It’s why having a plan that progressively builds the driver’s skills and confidence is important.
Teaching a teen driver how to handle a car on narrow roads and around tight corners is a foundation driving skill in my opinion. It gives the new driver a good feel for how the car responds in demanding driving conditions. It’s why I like to spend a lot of time in the canyons of Southern California during my longer teaching drives.
For this drive, we are going to explore a canyon drive that is a little longer, and a bit tighter. I would recommend that the teen driver has some canyon driving experience before embarking on this drive. You may want to complete the drive outlined in Canyon Driving, Part 1, or an equivalent drive first.
Freeway driving makes up a significant portion of this drive as well. Both the canyon and freeway driving will be important skill for later drives in this series.
When teaching a teen to drive, I like to spend a lot of time driving the canyons of Southern California. These roads tend to be narrow, two lane roads where the driver has to work on setting up the car and controlling it through the corners. It also requires the driver to stay alert since these are not simple, straight roads where you can slip into auto-pilot mode.
In the first drive, we mixed a little bit of everything into the drive – freeways, canyons, two and four lane roads, and urban driving. In this second drive, we’re going to focus primarily on canyons, with some urban driving and open 2-lane road portions mixed in.
After covering the introductory drives outlined in the first post of the series, the new driver should be comfortable behind the wheel, and you should be comfortable riding in the passenger seat and giving instructions. If all is going well, then you are ready to head out onto the open road.
For my first extended drive, I like to introduce the teen driver to a little bit of everything. We’ll drive on some straight, lightly traveled two lane roads; cover a busier road that requires varying speeds, changing lanes, and staying alert for odd situations; explore our first canyon; and spend time on the freeway.
This is the first in my series of drives I use to teach a new driver. The description and overview of the series can be read by clicking here.
When I’m teaching a teen to drive, the first drive is actually a series of drives. My goals at the beginning of this process are:
- Go over the ground rules outlined in my first post to make sure we are on the same page
- Allow the teen driver to get comfortable with setting up the car and the controls – adjusting the seat; adjusting mirrors; setting the steering wheel position; location of headlight controls, turn signals, hazards, parking brake operation
- Make sure the teen driver knows location of brake and gas pedals – yes, it may seem basic, but remember this is their first time
- Develop spatial awareness, meaning the teen driver knows the front of the car extends beyond what they can see and demonstrate the concept of blind spots by standing outside the car while the teen sits in the car using the mirrors
Once we’re good with the initial phase, then I move on to driving the car by first having the teen driver get comfortable using the gas and brake, especially understanding the pedal pressure required to move the car and stop it. I also go over the concept that an automatic drive car will start to move (when on a flat surface) as soon as you take your foot off the brake.