Sunday, January 16, 2011

Driving in Cars With Teens

I met a guy the other day who says he enjoys teaching teens how to drive.

No, he’s not some adrenaline nut with a death wish. He’s a father of teens. Who all have their licenses and happily cruise around town without smashing the family van or causing injury to anyone. This guy has a track record of proven success, and apparently other parents “lend” him their kids, who are in the permit stage, for highway practice.

Here’s what I would say about this man: he has no pulse. Unflappable. Calm, with a sense of humor, in the face of impending disaster. Someone should give this guy a medal.

The scariest thing I have done as a parent is get in a car with a newly permitted teen driver. Actually, it may be the scariest thing I’ve done, period. Scarier than having surgery (at least trained professionals are in charge) and scarier than skiing down a double black diamond slope (I’m afraid of heights.)

I realize that it doesn’t help the Newly Permitted Teen Driver to see terror on the Parent Passenger’s face, or hear the Parent Passenger gasp as the teen races to within mere feet of the car ahead before SLAMMING on the brakes. It doesn’t build confidence in the young driver to have a Parent Passenger clutching the armrest, eyes clamped shut, muttering prayers. An overall atmosphere of calm should pervade the driving experience; a calm which is shattered when the Parent Passenger says, “Slow down. Slow down. Slow down slow down SLOW DOWN!!!!!” when approaching a stop sign.

My buddy without the pulse reportedly doesn’t react this way. He’s known to calmly comment, “Okay, you just cut off a tractor trailer, which crashed into the car behind us. Remember to signal, check your mirrors, then glance over your shoulder before changing lanes.” Or: “Okay, luckily there are no cops in sight, because you just ran a red light and almost hit a pedestrian. Always remember that red means ‘stop’ and green means ‘go.’ Otherwise, you’re doing great!”

I’ve considered incorporating that calm, “no worries, bro,” tone:

“Now, did you see the way my head bobbled, whiplash-like, when you stopped just then? You hit the brakes a bit too suddenly, and were going a tad too fast.” Or:

“Did you hear that bumpety-bumpety sound just then? That was the sound of our car rolling over those kids crossing the street. You might want to pull over, so we can wait for the police to arrive.”

Even greater than my fears of what my Permitted Driver might do to hapless passers-by is what Even-Worse-Drivers might do to her. We’ve talked a lot about defensive driving, and exercising caution while on the road:

“Now, I want you to think of the most irresponsible, untrustworthy kid at your high school Someone you can’t count on to get from Point A to Point B without somehow messing up. Consider this: that person has his/her license. Every car on the road is potentially driven by that person. Heading your way, in the oncoming lane. So … watch out.”

Okay, so maybe that’s not the best way to inspire calm and confidence in a young driver. What can I tell you? I’m the shrieking-praying-armrest-clutching sort.

The only thing worse than driving with the Newly Permitted is watching them pull out of your driveway, with your car, the day they become the Newly Licensed. The day I watched through the dining room window as my son drove off with the Subaru, paroxysms of anxiety swept over me. I telephoned my own mother, who had taught me to drive on Route 17 in New Jersey.

She was not sympathetic.

“Yup. I know. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since you got your license,” she said. I laughed.

“Mom, I’m a middle-aged woman.”

“Yes,” she replied. “It’s a long time to go without a decent night’s sleep, let me tell you.”

It sure is.

1 comment:

  1. I hear you. I have a 16-year-old with a permit who decided he wanted ME to teach him, not dad. Apparently I'm more critical. A half a year later, I feel confident about his driving; it's the other idiots he'll encounter on the road that scare me.