Dealing With ‘Difficult’ Learner Drivers

difficult learner drivers - road-rage-learner“Hey Ged.. I got a really difficult pupil later. Good control of the car but in a ‘boy racer’ way. Very impatient, slightly aggressive to other road users, especially cyclists. He does know all the dangers/hazards but has the ‘it’s their own fault’ attitude. Any advice for dealing with difficult learner drivers?”

Great question! Firstly, the problems of attitude, peer pressure, etc, cannot be dealt with on a superficial level, which ‘traditional’ driving instruction deals with. Rather than concentrate on the dangers/hazards OUTSIDE the car, this guy needs to take a closer examination of the dangers/hazards WITHIN the car, or more specifically… the person sat in the driving seat. For this reason, I would definitely deal with this issue using a coaching approach.

Learner Drivers 10-Minute Extended Lesson Technique

I would first start off by suggesting that this be carried out at the start of the lesson. It may take 10 minutes or so, so if you are conscious of the time taken to do this, ask if it’s ok for the lesson to run over by 10 minutes. Then say something along the lines of, “OK, so what I’d like to do this afternoon is to explore what your thoughts are on driving. So I just want to ask you a few questions to find out your opinions; some of these may be a little challenging, but I’d like you to answer as honestly as you can – that way you’ll get the full benefit. Is that OK with you?”

For the difficult learner drivers I may then use a line of questioning as follows:

“OK, [name], what type of driver do you aspire to be?
a) a bad driver
b) an average driver
c) a good driver
d) an excellent driver”

Inevitably, the pupil replies “an excellent driver”, so the conversation could continue as follows:

“Great, so let’s explore the qualities of ‘an excellent driver’ – what particular skills or attitudes will the excellent driver have?”

Allow them to list all the things they can think of, whilst you write them down in a vertical list. Aim to get around 10-12 good qualities. You must resist the temptation to give them answers – it’s essential that this list comes from them! Occasionally asking, “and what else?” will usually generate more responses, and if they get really stuck, you could maybe re-focus the question, e.g. “what will their forward planning skills be like?” “how would an ‘excellent driver’ respond to a road rage incident?”, etc. If you are good at this, you should be able to bring the focus subtly around to how an excellent driver would deal with cyclists, and any other irritations that this pupil may have.

Once you have the list, compliment him on coming up with so many ideas, and enthusiastically agree with his list, remembering to remain non-judgmental.

The next part of the exercise would be for the pupil to rate himself on all of those qualities. It’s important that he is honest in doing this, and if you have rapport at this stage, then he should be. Ask him to rate himself on each quality between 1 and 10, 1 being ‘I don’t have this quality at all, or I am awful in this area’ and 10 being, ‘I have this quality in abundance, or am perfect in this area’.

Again, it is essential that you are non-judgmental during this exercise. If, in your opinion, the pupil is over-rating himself, then that is absolutely fine. This may just show misplaced confidence, but we can deal with that part separately. He also may ask you what YOU think his rating should be. Simply remind him that it’s his rating that you’re interested in, and that your opinion is irrelevant for this exercise.

Coaching Learner Drivers

Once you finish, you should have a list of 10 qualities and 10 corresponding numbers. The whole purpose of this exercise is to generate awareness of the pupil’s skill level. If they have rated themselves honestly enough, then there will be few (if any) 10’s. If there are any 10’s, then ask them what an excellent experienced driver would be rated as in that area. They will usually respond, “10”, and then will often reflect on their initial grading of themselves and lower it, or you could ask, “so if someone will excellence and experience is a 10, then where would you put yourself on the scale?” Even a 9 can be improved – so whatever the number is, I would use this next question:

“What do you need to do to take that to a higher number?” or “How can we get you to a 10?”

The whole purpose of this exercise is to generate awareness and responsibility – the essence of coaching.

Different Approach and Method ADIs can use for Learner Drivers

Another completely different way to approach this would be to look at the pupil’s motivation for wanting to learn to drive…

“Why do you want to learn to drive?”
“What are the 5 biggest benefits passing your test will bring you?”
“What car would you like to own?”

You can then take this one stage further:

What do you like doing in your spare time?
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
What career would you like?

As a skilled coach, your job is then to get the pupil (learner drivers) to understand how a crash, injury or licence endorsements will impact on these latter findings. For example the conversation could go something like this (instructor’s comments in bold typeface):

“So if we were to accidentally (or intentionally) knock a cyclist off his bike, what would happen?”
“I’d stop to make sure he was alright, then drive on”
“Let’s say that the cyclist wasn’t alright then, and he had a serious injury from hitting his head – what would happen then?”
“I’d call an ambulance”
“Would any other emergency services get involved then if someone had been injured in a crash?”
“Well, the police might come, I guess”
“And why would they need to come along?”
“To see what caused the accident and who was to blame”
“Let’s say they deemed you to be at fault then, what would happen then?”
“Not sure. I may get a fine or points on my licence”
“How would these points on your licence affect your insurance premium, do you think?”
“Ummm… they might go up I suppose”
“Let’s say your premiums doubled then, which isn’t unusual, say from £2000 to £4000, what would the effect of that be?”
“I’d be skint!”
“And what would the effect of you being skint have on your ability to keep up with the insurance payments?”
“I’d struggle”
“So let’s say you had already accumulated points through other offences, and this crash was to take you to 12 points, what would happen then?”
“I’d lose my licence”
“And what effect would that have on your career…? Your spare time activities…?”
“I may lose my job… and I wouldn’t be able to drive to my mates’ houses – they’d have to pick me up all the time”

Can you see where we’re going with this? So the skill of a good coach is to generate awareness of the risks, well beyond the simple traditional questions such as, “Why is it important to give a cyclist 1.5m clearance?”. Once the pupil has the awareness of what could really happen, then they begin to self-develop a sense of responsibility, thus directing them towards the ‘excellent driver’ they aspire to be.

I hope that helps!
down arrowDo you have experience with similar ‘difficult’ learner drivers?  What strategies how you found work well in helping them? We love hearing from you, so please add your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • Anonymous

    Nice post, really enjoy reading it. Thanks!

  • I think it’s just the general attitude of some young people nowadays, it’s not just when in a car it’s all the time. As soon as they pass their test everything we say goes straight out of the window. Oh well, more lessons needed if they lose their licence.

  • Great post made interesting reading. Coaching is definatly the future in driver education.

  • paul

    Great tips, food for thought, thank you.

  • Emma Evans from Roadio

    It’s a shame that it takes higher insurance rather than simply respect for other road users to get some people to be safer drivers. Great coaching technique though!