teen driving

Driver’s Ed 101: The Parent Edition

Written on July 1, 2014 at 7:30 am , by

Do you know any parents who love teaching their kids to drive? Me neither. Now that my husband and I are at our official halfway point—midway through our third teen’s permit—I’ve finally reached a point of peace with it.

With the first new driver, I thought I’d be the cool, laid-back stepmom who wouldn’t stress out or raise her voice. This was before I fully grasped that the things that exasperate you about your kids around the house will exponentially exasperate you when they’re behind the wheel, because now those annoyances are dangerous and expensive.

You put your reasonably intelligent teens in the driver’s seat and it’s as if aliens have abducted them and left poorly functioning drones in their place. The girl who speaks fluent French gets the brake and gas pedals mixed up. The boy who does complex logarithmic equations in his head fails to notice when the car in front of him brakes. The volleyball star who anticipates the moves of every member of the opposing team can’t anticipate a single move by another driver.

Yet even when they lull you into a false sense of security by pretending to ignore you, it turns out your kids are always watching you.

At a four-way stop, our second teen driver stopped smoothly and took her turn in order.

 “How was that?” she asked.

 “Perfect!” I said.

 “You have the best stops out of everyone,” she explained. “You let up on the brake a little before you come to a complete stop, and then it doesn’t jerk at the end.”

That’s a habit I developed in my 20s, back when I smoked and drank coffee from an open mug while driving (stopping like that keeps the coffee from spilling). I didn’t mention this.

When the third kid got her permit, I looked back on previous experiences and accepted a few things that have made it easier:

1. The car’s going to get dinked up.

The first teen jumped the curb in our driveway, ripping off the entire undercarriage covering while her father and I watched. She then proceeded to tell us how it wasn’t her fault. The second one ignored, for three days, the fact that the car had been bombed by a pack of wild turkeys. When we demanded she wash the car, she used a steel wool pad. She’s hit the retaining wall so much that the bumper looks like it was attacked with an industrial cheese grater.

We’re in no rush to get nicer cars.

2. I will accomplish nothing by holding my Jesus handle and pressing my imaginary brake pedal.

It is far more effective to calmly point out facts:

You should brake now.
Accelerate, or you’ll get run over.
You missed the exit.

3. I will accomplish nothing good by imagining worst-case scenarios.

Instead, I bring myself back to the present moment by calmly asking questions:

What’s the speed limit here?
Are you trying to crawl up that guy’s tailpipe?

4. I will raise my voice at some point.

It’s okay to yell when they do something truly dangerous. They’re new enough to the whole driving thing that they may not understand immediate danger. Parental anger usually gets their attention.

On a recent drive, the third teen did beautifully and didn’t make a single error. But as we approached our driveway, she didn’t slow down. Before I could speak, she turned, too fast and not enough. The noise was loud and jarring. I couldn’t tell whether she hit the retaining wall or the power line pole. I tried to be angry—I pulled out the old standby, “What were you thinking!?!” but it felt as if I were playing a part. She knows what she did and she’s unlikely to make that same error again. Fortunately, she only hit the retaining wall.

Inspecting the damage, I realized I couldn’t tell new scratches from old ones, and laughed. Accepting that these things happen—and being desensitized by two previous drivers—made it suddenly funny to me.

But I didn’t laugh half as much as I’m going to when the fifth one finally gets his license and I don’t have to teach any more teens how to drive.

 

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand, and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.

Car Crashes are the Leading Cause of Death for Teens

Written on October 19, 2012 at 6:16 pm , by

My teenager graduated from a learners permit to driver’s license today. I’m hoping it’s a good omen that he is starting to drive on his own during Teen Driver Safety Week. But, as part of AAA’s promotion of teen safety behind the wheel, I got an email this morning declaring, “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the US and teens have the highest crash rate of any age group.”

Gulp. Can we go back to when I was only worrying about what he was up to on the Internet?

I have spent the last year teaching him to drive well. Discussing the dangers of distracted driving, driving under the influence, texting and driving–and sharing very real stories of families destroyed by this last one. I even sent him to an awesome (and free!) defensive driving school.

But I know there is a brief moment, right now, when he wants the keys to my car so badly that he will agree to anything. So I’m downloading, printing, and making him read and sign the parent-teen agreement that AAA created just for this moment. He knows all this stuff. But it can’t hurt to go over it once more and make it clear that even a single infraction will cost him his driving privileges.

I have recently been talking to car manufacturers about technology that’s coming in future cars for a story I’m writing. So I know there will be some very high-tech ways for parents to let the car monitor, coach, and supervise teen drivers in the near future. But my teen is driving now. Today, my husband, teen, and I spent some time going over safety and getting some ideas and information at Keys2Drive, the AAA Guide to Teen Driver Safety. But I am also planning to try out some smartphone apps that coach a teen driver right from his phone, tools that turn off texting while driving, and even–yes, I have come to this!–in-car monitoring tools that let me see where he is and send me an alert if he goes outside a perimeter I set.

Stay tuned for the results of my in-car technology safety experiments.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com. Follow her on Twitter: @xtinatynanwood.