To Drive Or Not To Drive: letting our teens go

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Sometimes I wonder if it was safer to drive a car in the 1980’s than it is today.  I ponder this thought lately as our second child buckles up behind the wheel, eager to practice his driving.

A driver in the 1980’s or earlier certainly had distractions when he drove.  Conversations, loud music from the radio, 8-track players, or cassette players, and (unbuckled) passengers swapping seats, grabbing items from other parts of the car, wrestling, or being tossed around in the back of a station wagon along with other loose objects were all a normal part of the driving experience.

But regardless of those distractions, the driver of a vehicle when I was a teenager could remain focused on the task of driving and not worry too much about other drivers losing their focus.  Today, even with all passengers buckled in safely and airbags set to employ if necessary, it feels less safe (to me) to be on the road than in the 1980’s.   I think it feels this way because I am aware that many drivers are willing to switch their focus, even for half a second, from the road to their electronic devices of choice.

So, like many other mothers of new drivers, I try not to let my fears of distracted drivers overwhelm me.  My son gives us many reasons to believe he is a capable driver. Both of his hands are on the wheel at ten and two.  His  eyes are focused on the road, if not checking the mirrors and speedometer from time to time.  Still, I try to bite my tongue and refrain from critiquing his nearly perfect driving.  Shouldn’t a new driver decelerate sooner as he approaches a red light?  Shouldn’t a new driver drive well below the speed limit? Was that a full and complete stop? 

It helps me to know that his first driver’s ed. road lesson is just days away.  I picture him  in the tiny, clown-sized  neon green driver’s ed. car, forced to drive at a snail’s pace, while another new driver miraculously squeezes into the back seat to observe.  I’m not sure who selected these tiny vehicles to be driving school cars but hopefully they are much sturdier than they appear.

As much as I love the idea of my son learning to drive alongside a patient, experienced driving instructor, there are still so many unknown situations that he will face, with and without this instructor.  I hope and pray that his good hand eye coordination (from baseball and hockey) and his good reflexes (from driving the lawn mower and his ATV) will prepare him for any unexpected situations he may encounter on the road.

Just last night, a friend reported on Facebook her own (unexpected) close encounter on the highway.  Her teenage daughter in the passenger seat witnessed a driver up ahead who was texting with his phone at the steering wheel.  Thankfully, she was able to warn her mother to keep her distance from this vehicle, because it went on to rear-end a car (at highway speed), forcing it to spin out-of-control across three lanes and then tumble repeatedly into the median strip.  The description sounded like a  scene from a movie or TV show.  (The woman survived, thankfully, but the offender sped off, abandoning the scene). Seeing something like that is a wake-up call that texting while driving happens and can easily be disastrous.

For any mothers with new or soon-to-be new drivers, I guarantee you will be like me for a while, walking around with a knot in your stomach until your new driver returns home or checks in with you to report his safe arrival somewhere else.  You will probably worry when you hear a siren if your new driver is on the road.  Then, after some time, you will relax a little and cherish the fact that your new driver can relieve you of some of your taxi driving duties.  You will love not having to run to the grocery store to get that forgotten item because your new driver will be happy to do it for you. I went through these stages with my daughter, who now has a year and a half of driving experience under her belt.  Now it’s my son’s turn.  And now the knot is back.

It’s funny to think that not too many years ago our kids were thrilled to be driving the old fashioned cars and the Grand Prix race cars at Story Land and Disney World.  I remember thinking to myself, we have plenty of years ahead of us before they will be sitting behind the wheel of a real car.  And here we are.  I will get used to this like my mother got used to me and my siblings pulling out of the driveway in the wood-paneled station wagon.

I just hope that some day soon, an engineer will design a vehicle that seats many, is very good on gas, and is indestructible.  Oh, and maybe it could be somewhat attractive. But that’s not really important.  Is that too much to ask?

5 responses »

  1. Hi Ellen,

    You and Paul are blessed with three wonderful children who I see as responsible teenagers, but of course it’s not their behavior that worries you most, but the other guy who lacks the maturity of driving responsibly. As parents you have instilled the importance of making good choices and I believe they carry those values wherever they go whether it’s driving the car or living college life.

    • Lois, I think you are right. It’s just so scary to think that inexperienced drivers have to be able to react to inattentive drivers. Hopefully they will be
      trained well and very conscientious behind the wheel. This started out as a lighthearted topic (thinking back to my station wagon days) but somehow morphed into
      my own worries. I guess parents it’s good to share, as many other parents can relate. (And aunts, uncles, and grandparents, too)…

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