Any suggestion to make sure you're driving far enough from the curb?
September 20, 2020 4:50 PM   Subscribe

My 15-year-old is learning to drive (in the US). He's having a lot of trouble making sure the car isn't too close to cars or the curb on the right (passenger) side. Every few minutes I have to remind him that he's too close on the right side. Does anyone have a suggestions on what he could do to prevent this?

This happens on both streets with lane markers and residential streets with no lane markers. The car's alignment is good.

I've been driving for decades, and I'm not sure what to suggest to help him get better with this. I (and I imagine most drivers) have a pretty good unconscious ability to know where the right side of the car is. (The times I've driven a car with right-hand drive in countries that drive on the left, I did initially have the same issue with the left side of the car, but I was able to adjust pretty quickly.)
posted by Sock, Sock, Sock, Sock, Sock, Goose! to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Assuming you're driving on the right, aim your own body so that you're just off the centre line of the lane. This is what I was taught when I learned to drive, and based on a quick google it seems to still be common advice:

How to Stay Centered in Your Lane - Driving Tips
posted by tiamat at 4:55 PM on September 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

I remember figuring out that if the right side lane stripe lined up with a certain spot of my car hood, then I was centered in the lane. I got a feel for it after a couple weeks or so.

It also meant that I was looking down at the street pavement immediately in front of the car, which meant I wasn’t scanning the road in the middle distance or scanning for traffic around me. Encourage him to lift his eyes to a farther point down the road.
posted by Liesl at 4:56 PM on September 20, 2020 [9 favorites]

A tip my mother taught me: when sitting in the driver's seat, you can generally see the hinge of the wiper at the center of the windshield. Align that with the curb, or wherever you want the right side of the car to be. Marvel at the real-world application of geometry.
posted by basalganglia at 4:56 PM on September 20, 2020 [6 favorites]

When I was learning to drive in parking lots, my dad had me on-purpose graze an object (very slowly) on the far front corner of the car to calibrate what it looked like.
posted by janell at 4:57 PM on September 20, 2020

When I learned, back in the dark ages, my dad taught me to look at the center of the hood of your car (where a hood ornament would be if you have one) and keep that in the middle of your lane always.
posted by lovecrafty at 4:57 PM on September 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

I learned to keep the center line roughly lined up with the corner of my windshield (exact positioning depends on the car, obviously).
posted by mskyle at 5:10 PM on September 20, 2020

I had a really tough time with this when I learned to drive. I think it's two things: one, someone just starting to drive has seen things from the perspective of the passenger seat for most of their life, and two, the moving vehicles coming towards you are the thing that are eating up your brain space and field of vision, and you're spending more mental effort avoiding them than the non-moving cars. Just knowing that, thinking through it, helped me. Learning to park also helped me, because after pulling into parking spaces and being way over the line, I got a better sense of where the car was located in space relative to all the kinds of spots that folks upthread are mentioning. (For me, having the center line going exactly into the corner of my windshield is the right spot.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:16 PM on September 20, 2020 [10 favorites]

It takes a lot of practice to get that unconscious sense (and update it for different cars too). I'd probably have him start with the car parked; in the driver's seat, how close does he think he is to the curb or the other line? Have him park in a bunch of spots in an empty parking lot, and then get out and check. Etc.
posted by Lady Li at 5:28 PM on September 20, 2020

In addition to the above advice I was taught to remind myself of an important piece of perspective - unlike a bicycle the driver isn't in the middle of vehicle; rather offset far to the side. So don't position yourself in the middle of the lane, rather "sit your butt in the rut".
posted by mce at 6:08 PM on September 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

When I was learning to drive, I had a little sticker / cut up piece of post-it note that I placed on the bottom inside of the windshield. This post-it note was positioned in such a way that it visually lined up with the road's white line, such that I was appropriately far enough away / close enough.

You can do this in a parking lot, once the car is appropriately positioned with a white line. Your son can place the sticker on the windshield. Be sure to have your son adjust his seat to what he would normally have it, as his height and chair height and car height change where that post it note should be. (Rinse and repeat for any other vehicles he is driving.)

This was very helpful to me, as a short driver of a large mini van in a state with notoriously narrow lanes, and barely any road shoulder width. I've personally found that I have a better sense of "space" driving sedans vs. SVUs/larger cars.
posted by ellerhodes at 7:12 PM on September 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

I was taught the opposite of the people above, and align to the lane markers to my left (US). For my height, I keep the lane markers shooting through the bottom left corner of my windshield. I do not like aligning to the right because that seems like asking for trouble w/r/t bikes/pedestrians.
posted by Evilspork at 7:31 PM on September 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

When I was learning to drive, I stayed so far to the right on a dark country road without streetlights, I drove right into the ninth hole of a fancy golf course. It took two days to get the car out. Anyway, lots of practice double parking, and learning how to align my car with another car at the right spot to give myself enough leeway to get into the spot in front really helped develop my sense of close but not on-the-sidewalk or in-the-golf-course close!
posted by Violet Blue at 7:35 PM on September 20, 2020

Only works on more major roads, but it isn't uncommon to see that there are light ruts in the roads where millions of tyres have travelled. If you line your wheels up with the ruts, that works.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 8:29 PM on September 20, 2020

Is he overcompensating for fear of crossing into the oncoming lane? Would learning to recognize when he's actually crossed the center line help him?
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:56 PM on September 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Every few minutes I have to remind him that he's too close on the right side. Does anyone have a suggestions on what he could do to prevent this?

If you're instructing somebody to drive, then especially in the early stages there should be a constant flow of instruction from you to the learner driver, and the car should only ever be moving at a speed that allows for that flow to happen at a relaxed pace rather than as a frantic non-parseable gabble of stress. As driving skills build and the number of points the driver no longer needs constant instruction on rises, vehicle speed can be slowly raised to compensate.

So assuming the two of you have found an efficient instruction delivery speed, just saying "move a little further left" whenever you sense a drift to the right will eventually fix it.

The main intent of driving instruction should be building good driving habits, not so much imparting good driving knowledge (the latter is better done while the car's not moving). Good driving instruction, like good driving, is all about smooth flow; telling your student what is wrong rather than what to do adds spikes of cognitive load that help neither of you.

I've taught all my kids to drive on dirt roads in the bush first, and the exercise I've always used for teaching them about positioning is to put down some sticks in the road and have them deliberately aim to run over those, first with the left wheels, then with the right wheels. Once the car has gone past the stick we get out and look at the tracks in the dust to see how close they got. They pick it up pretty quick. You could probably adapt this for a more urban setting with pavement-chalk targets in a parking lot.
posted by flabdablet at 8:57 PM on September 20, 2020 [9 favorites]

The exercise I use personally to familiarize myself with a new vehicle is the same one: find little obstacles that are designed to be run over, like rumble strips or in-road reflector bumps, and try to make a wheel go bump on them. Doesn't take long to get tuned in to the shape of the car and how that relates to the view through the windscreen.
posted by flabdablet at 9:06 PM on September 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

My neighbour the ex traffic cop recommends looking at a point 50 metres ahead of the car and steering in a way that will put your own body right there once the car's gone that distance.

So if you're in the driving seat, you'll want to look at the point where your seat will need to be in 50 metres. If instead you're looking at the point where the middle of the car will need to be, you'll be fighting your own instincts to stay on the correct line.
posted by flabdablet at 9:11 PM on September 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Find an empty parking lot and set out some cardboard boxes, do different scenarios not just the right hand side. Also good for backing up, parallel parking, etc.
posted by yohko at 9:50 PM on September 20, 2020

Ok this may not apply to you at all, but on the off chance: if you don’t spend a lot of time in the passenger seat other than when you’re driving with your 15 year old, make sure you’re not over correcting because everything on the right feels so much closer when you’re in the passenger seat than when you’re in the driver’s seat.

It’s entirely possible and more likely that your new driver is too close to stuff on the right (if he’s hitting the curb or missing side mirrors by centimeters, ignore me!), but I also notice that every time I’m in the passenger seat after going sometimes for months only being in the driver’s seat that everything on the right feels scary close when it’s actually completely fine.
posted by MadamM at 10:17 PM on September 20, 2020 [19 favorites]

The best advice I got was to keep my right foot (on gas pedal) in the center. It's a lot easier than trying to mentally gauge other visual cues and it has served me from tiny cars like Beetles to giant dual-rear-wheeled pickup trucks.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 10:43 PM on September 20, 2020

I drive a large pickup truck. Judging the left side where I am sitting is much easier than judging the right side. I make the assumptions that the lane is big enough for a stock car sold in America and that my car is a stock car that fits in the lane. The lane is wide enough for my truck. So, I align my truck in my lane by being closer to the left side of the lane than the right side and I always avoid obstacles on my right because I am far enough on my left. Then, experience is the key. I taught my children to stay in their lanes by having them drive on the Bronx River Parkway in Westchester County, NY.

The other way to practice is to use the rumble strips just outside of the fog line on the right on most highways. Or, alternatively, the reflectors embedded into the road's lane markers.

I have been legally driving for 40+ years. Drove a few times before I got my permit. I look out over the hood at the road ahead of me. I do not try to align body parts or car parts with road parts.

It sounds like to me that your student is not looking ahead and around. They should notice on their own if they are drifting to the right.

You could put a piece of tape on the steering wheel at the 12 O'clock position. That will help them to keep going straight on a straight away or a straight road. If the road curves to the left, they can visualize the tape being at maybe the 11 O'clock position. Vice versa for right curves.
posted by AugustWest at 11:55 PM on September 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

The best advice I got was to keep my right foot (on gas pedal) in the center.

This is a method that comes unstuck quite badly if you ever need to drive a vehicle with the operator's seat on the right hand side. The foot-to-pedal mapping gets shifted over as-is rather than being mirrored, so all your muscle memory for how your feet are supposed to work remains applicable, but your accelerator foot is now closer to the edge than the centre.
posted by flabdablet at 4:23 AM on September 21, 2020

Get him to look farther ahead than he might be so that he stops probably trying to follow the lines. Also definitely let him practice on (quiet!) roads with a rumble strip on the shoulder. After a while of bumping the rumble strips he should get a sense of where that side of his car is as he travels at different speeds/navigates curves.
posted by TwoStride at 6:16 AM on September 21, 2020

Lots of people driving through our neighborhood, with streets that are just wide enough for two lanes of traffic between rows of parked cars on either side, seem to have LITERALLY NO IDEA how wide their vehicles are, and thus they drive absolutely down the middle of the road, if not veering so far in the direction of the center of the road that the centerline of their vehicle actually crosses the centerline of the road. If they have to allow a vehicle to pass in the other direction, about 50% of these drivers will inch a bit towards the passenger side and come to a complete stop, rather than try to get "too close" to the cars parked on that side. From my perspective I can usually see about two, if not three, feet of daylight on the passenger side of their vehicles.

To build up knowledge I suggest two things: (1) do just what flabdablet's neighbor the ex traffic cop says, driving towards a point down the road [this is exactly what I was taught in drivers' ed years ago]; (2) on a quiet enough street, or in a parking lot with no traffic, you can just stop the car and walk around to see how much space there is. Repeat this a few times so "too close" and "too far" start to become reflexive. I have actually done this myself, at the ripe old age of [REDACTED], when in a rental car that's too far off what I'm used to driving.
posted by fedward at 7:36 AM on September 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

I never got the hang of this as a teenager and it was part of the reason I stopped trying and didn’t reattempt to learn to drive until I was in my mid-20s. The second time around, it wasn’t a problem at all, so I wonder if it’s at least somewhat of a developmental thing.
posted by coppermoss at 10:19 AM on September 21, 2020

If it's a road with lane markers, keep the lower corner of the driver's side window visually lined up with the center line. It's easier to do than trying to find an unmarked center point of the lane.

If there are no lane markers, go to a place with a lot of parked cars (or better-- hedges so you really can't hurt anything) and very, very slowly creep past them, periodically getting out to look at where you are in relationship to them. It's just a matter of getting a sense for how big your car is around you.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:05 AM on September 21, 2020

My driver’s ed teacher suggested imagining that I’m Fred Flintstone and I want my right foot to fall in the middle of my lane, if that makes sense.
posted by little_dog_laughing at 1:54 PM on September 21, 2020

How's his depth perception otherwise? When was the last time it was checked?
posted by miles1972 at 10:22 PM on September 21, 2020

Parallel parking is the best way to learn the size of your vehicle, which I think is one of the most important things to learn after taillight skills: stopping, changing lanes and merging on the freeway. It increases confidence so much and reduces skittishness in close quarters, like fast-moving traffic and grocery parking lots. I see more people than you might think, making four-point turns to exit a parking lot space.

I remember figuring out that if the right side lane stripe lined up with a certain spot of my car hood, then I was centered in the lane. I got a feel for it after a couple weeks or so.

I thought I was so smart when I discovered "street line intersections with car parts" when my Dad told me that yeah, it's pretty much the first thing in pilot orientation when you're learning to fly. Good ol' Dad, he didn't teach me to drive, either.

There's gotta be lots of parking lot space these days, what with malls being on the outs a bit these days. Those are free lines and you can practice over and over, centering the car into and out of a parking space, which then goes to centering in lanes. Get or borrow some cones large enough to see in mirrors (maybe hardware stores will rent them) and set up some scenarios for reversing into and for parking space boundaries.
posted by rhizome at 7:22 PM on September 22, 2020

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