JUST THINKING: Driver’s ed

Just Thinking | Julie Stafford

I am in the midst of my third turn with driver’s education. First, of course, was my own trip in the driver’s seat; 28 years later came my oldest daughter’s; and now it’s my son’s turn.

This is one of those things that seems to me should be a no brainer once you get your first child successfully through the class. But I’m not finding that to be the case. I’m a nervous wreck.

I remember being pretty scared all those years ago, when it came time for me to do the actual driving part of the class, which back then was done through the schools at school with teachers as the, well, teachers. I had Mr. Diehl, who also happened to be my math teacher and was teacher and coach to my mom and dad. I remember feeling so impressed with myself for how well I was doing, sure my fellow newbie drivers were as relaxed and confident in the back seat.

Then, while cruising down US-131 from the M-57 exit toward Post Drive, Mr. Diehl said in his calm, deep, rumbly voice, “Julie, what are you doing?” In what I know must have been my “like totally, duh” voice, I said, “I’m driving to Post Drive.” That’s when he pointed out that one of the first rules of the road is to pull over when emergency lights approach. Glancing in my rearview mirror, I noticed for the first time the ambulance lights ablaze, hot on my bumper.

Lesson learned: The importance of always being present mentally and visually while at the wheel, taking stock of the “big picture” — rearview mirror, peripherals, blind spots, oncoming traffic. And the dangers of being over confident, especially when in the company of Mr. Diehl.

When my daughter, Grace, first got her permit and began putting in her supervised hours, I had to prod her to drive a little more aggressively. She was scared of everything involved and, as a result, drove like the proverbial Sunday driver — putt, putt, putt. Made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up at times when we paused in the middle of busy intersections and drove below the speed limit on the highway near our home. But I was always grateful that she had a respect for how dangerous driving can be.

I knew I might be in for a little more adrenaline when I plunked in the passenger side for one of my first drives with my son, who still has a handful of months to go before he gets his license. He was wearing leather “driving gloves”.

Quite opposite his sister when she first started to drive, Alec is fairly confident behind the wheel. We did have a slight miscommunication right out of the box after an incident in which he was pulling left onto a busy road from the orthodontists office and, quite literally, stopped in the middle. Seeing cars speeding toward us, I told him to “go, go, go” and gave him my speech about making sure you know you’re safe to turn left and then pushing the gas until you were out on the road. In the next few days, I found that he translated that to mean he should push the gas and not brake around ANY corners, which made for an exciting ride around the two left turns into our neighborhood.

All in all, both my kids are great drivers. And I’m not sure how I would survive as a working mom without Grace’s help grocery shopping, ticking off errands on my list, and schlepping her brother and sister all over kingdom come. But she heads to college in August. While I know he needs these next few months to polish his road skills and be the best driver he can be at age 16, I sure will be glad when Alec gets his license. In the meantime, my goal is to be patient, make sure he is a confident but respectful driver, and — heaven forbid — that he knows to pull over when emergency vehicles approach.

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