Tuesday, January 5, 2021

I have taught four kids to drive through a patented method of controlled fear

Later this month our youngest son Jack turns 15, which means he'll be able to get his temporary driving permit this summer. He is eagerly looking forward to this.

Which, interestingly, isn't the case with a lot of kids these days. Federal Highway Administration data show that, in 2018, only about 25% of 16-year-olds became licensed drivers, and barely 60% of teens overall had their licenses by age 18. This is a noticeable decrease from when I was a teen (circa 2000 B.C.), and the reasons for it vary.

But Jack is one of those who is counting down the days.

As a parent of four licensed drivers who collectively have had their share of accidents, I will say the advantages of having your kids drive at least slightly outweigh the disadvantages. The convenience factor alone is enough for me.

Our four oldest have all gone through the same ritual when it comes to their early driving experiences. I take them down to the high school when the parking lot is deserted, usually on a Sunday afternoon. I then have them get into the driver's seat and get a feel for the accelerator and brake pedals, and then start them driving laps around the school.

Laps and laps and laps. First one way, then the other.

I have them pull into and out of parking spaces.

We do this a few times. At the end of the third or fourth session, I tell them to drive us home.

I will never forget the reaction Elissa, our oldest, had to this instruction. Wide-eyed, she looked at me and said, "Like, on the road?"

Yes, as this is the generally accepted method of operating a motor vehicle in Ohio, and presumably in other states.

This first time on the road, even if it only covers the three-quarters of a mile from the school to our house, is always exciting and a little nerve-wracking for them, but they always do it well.

It is admittedly also a little nerve-wracking for me, but I try to hide it.

In fact, that's my primary approach to teen driving education: Keeping calm. I don't want them to get rattled, so I never act like I'm rattled.

But I'm often rattled. Oh yes, I'm very often rattled.

Still, to date, there have been no fender benders or pedestrians maimed during Dad Driving Lessons, so on balance, it has gone as planned.

After I take them out several times, Terry often takes over as instructor and gets them truly ready to take their driving test. It's like I take the raw lump of coal and begin the rough process of shaping it into a diamond, but my wife is the one who truly gets them from "semi-competent" to "test-ready."

We're a good team that way.

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