Teaching a Teen to Drive – Urban Driving, Part 2

Map for Urban Driving, Part 2After 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.

If you’re joining in the middle of this series, here are the drives that we’ve completed thus far:

For this drive, we’re using the Las Posas Park & Ride in Camarillo that is just off the Las Posas exit of the US-101 as our starting point. We’re going to head left out of the parking lot and follow Las Posas Road to Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1). We’re going to go south on Pacific Coast Highway and head down the coast through Malibu. The traffic will start to pick up around the Malibu Lagoon and get heavier the closer you get to Santa Monica. As you get into Santa Monica, you’ll want to stay in the left lane so you can head up the California Incline onto Ocean Avenue. Once on Ocean, I’d suggest turning onto either Wilshire or Santa Monica Boulevard. From there, make the right onto Lincoln Boulevard, and then watch for the signs for I-10 heading east. You’ll stay on the I-10 until you get to the I-405, which you will take north. Then take the US-101 heading west/north, which will take you back to the Las Posas Park & Ride.

The drive is going to cover close to 100 miles and up to 3 hours depending on traffic. If you decide to stop in Santa Monica at 3rd Street Promenade, which I would highly recommend doing to break up the drive, you may want to budget as much as 4 hours to complete the drive.

Here are few additional notes for this drive:

  1. I’m going to strongly recommend stopping in Santa Monica for a break. There are many good places on 3rd Street Promenade where you can grab a meal or light refreshment. It will give the teen driver and you, the teacher, a chance to relax and rest for the second half of the drive. Plus, you’ll want to park in one of the public parking garages on either 2nd or 4th street. Part of the challenge for this drive is navigating the tight confines of the parking garages, which can be a learning experience all on its own.
  2. You should take this drive in the late morning or early afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday. The key is making sure that Pacific Coast Highway will be moderately congested, which it typically is around mid-day on the weekend. In other words, taking the drive too early in the morning or late in the evening defeats the purpose of exposing the learning driver to the challenges of driving on congested, urban drives.
  3. As the instructor, you’ll need to be confident and calm during this drive. You don’t want to be another distraction to the driver. However, you’ll want to be aware and on the lookout for odd situations and be ready to calmly point them out to the driver. I’ve had situations where cyclists have unexpectedly turned out into traffic, pedestrians stepped off the curb into traffic, swerving cars, aggressive drivers, and kites falling on the road from the beach. In each case, I was on the lookout for these things to happen and made sure the teen driver was ready to expect the worst-case situation. Anticipation and defensive driving are important lessons to learn, especially in urban driving and congested traffic situations.
  4. Be aware that the freeway transitions are congested and short, meaning you don’t have a lot of time to get into the proper lane. I’ve missed exits on this drive before. Stay calm, get off at the next exit, and circle back to get back going the right direction. In other words, don’t panic. Another skill that you can teach the teen driver is how to gracefully recover from missed turns and freeway exits. The key here is that you don’t want to compound mistakes, which is how a driver can get themselves into big trouble. Keep in mind that if you make a wrong decision, you’re only one decision away from getting back on track.

Here’s the interactive Google Map for the drive. In the embedded map, I’ve omitted the drive around Santa Monica, so be sure to follow the instructions above and make the left onto the California Incline. The drive through the city streets of Santa Monica is the highlight for this drive, so make sure you don’t skip it.

For our next to last drive, we’re going to continue working on urban driving skills with an even more challenging urban drive around Los Angeles.

Next up : Urban Driving – The Final Exam