Common Instructor Errors

Ned Ferris

In the last Accelerator edition, we looked at some commonly-committed instructor errors. In this edition, we explore how what we say – and how we say it – is important to effective teaching and learning.


Our words are our tools. To grasp the importance of effective oral communication to our profession, let’s be reminded of the three (3) primary methods of managing a Driver Education training vehicle:

  • spoken words
  • instructor-side brake pedal
  • steering wheel – guiding and assisting with directional / positional control


Of these three, what we say is probably 85 to 90% of what we use when working in-car with students. Although the instructor brake and steering wheel are also tools we use, those two combined are quite likely used less than our words.


There are words, terms, and phrases used in Driver Education and Traffic Safety. Often, these are unknowingly misused during classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction. That’s not altogether surprising: these words, terms, and phrases are commonly used in casual conversation. For the most part, their intended meanings are understood. But for our purposes as industry professionals, we should use them accurately and precisely.


We know that a collision, defined, is two or more road users attempting to occupy the same space at the same time. That means someone or another failed when it came to right-of-way.


Commonly said and heard in casual conversation amongst experienced adult drivers: “That son of a gun cut me off – I had the right-of-way!” Or, “I let the other driver go ahead of me – they had the right-of-way.” Truly, however, no Highway Transportation System user(s) “has” (“have”) the right-of-way. The right-of-way is either yielded or it is not. As driver educators, we should teach and coach in terms of who must yield the right-of-way, rather than who “has” it. After all, there is no traffic sign reading YOU HAVE – but there is the YIELD sign.


Another phrase frequently said and heard in casual conversation is “You want to…” (and, its opposite, “You don’t want to…”). In our profession, unless discretion is truly a factor, we should avoid those phrases to the greatest extent possible. Here are some examples:

  • “The first thing you ‘want to do’ as soon as you get into the car is turn your phone off.”
  • “You ‘want to’ check your tire pressure when the tires are cold.”
  • “You never ‘want to’ exceed the speed limit on a freeway-type of road.”


Let’s examine those three statements from our students’ standpoints:


  • “No, the last thing I ‘want to do’ is to power my phone down! I might miss a message, and also, I need to use my navigation app – how else would I know where I’m going?!”
  • “I’m pretty sure I’ll never ‘want to’ check my car’s tire pressure. They look fine.”
  • “Actually, I do ‘want to’ go fast on an expressway. Those roads are pretty straight and flat…I think it’d be fun to speed, at least a little!”

 young adults standing in group smiling together


Considering that our responsibility to our students is to teach them to honor laws and reduce driving risk, whimsy does not typically play a role. Setting discretion and temptation – or lack thereof – aside, consider these ways of rephrasing the three statements:

  • “It’s critical that any driver – of any age or amount of experience – does not allow themselves to be distracted.”
  • “Tire pressure must be measured when the tires are cold. That means after the vehicle has not moved for at least two hours. Otherwise, readings might not be accurate.”
  • “As tempting as it might be to drive faster than the speed limit allows, risk increases greatly – of crashing, and of being stopped and cited by police.”


Rather than to teach and coach in terms of what students might and might not “want to do”, we can – and should – substitute these words:

  • Must (do)
  • Should (do)
  • Have (to do)
  • Ought (to do)


“Need (to do)” almost made the list. But then again, it’s probably best to avoid that one. Let’s face it, who wants to be characterized as being “needy?”


In the next edition of The Accelerator, we’ll discuss more opportunities to apply polish and professionalism to the words we use.