Though she took the book learning part of Drivers Ed this summer, my 16 year old did not get her temporary license until last Monday. That’s because on Tuesday, we were leaving for a 1500 mile roadtrip for a family Thanksgiving, and it seemed like an ideal time to teach her to drive.
When I say “ideal time,” let me qualify that. To me, the “ideal” time to drive with her would have been after she had also taken the behind the wheel drivers’ ed class where the person in the passenger seat, a trained instructor, also has a brake pedal. But, oddly, that’s not how they do it anymore. They want the parents to teach the kids to drive, before the professional teacher ever gets into a car with them. While I find that bizarre and wrong, that massive group of people without 16 year olds seems to find it logical for some reason.
So, we headed off into the sunset, driving from Minnesota to northern Ohio. And then back. Safe and sound. With the sixteen year old driving at least 600 of the 1500 miles! And here’s what I learned, which I share thinking maybe it has application beyond this particular situation!
1. There is no time when beginning will feel safe, but make it as safe as you can. If you wait for safety, your kids will grow old and retire before you ever step aside and allow them to drive. But think through what will feel the safest to you. For me, it was a three lane highway in rural Wisconsin.
2. Start by imitating someone else. We drove around on a few country roads to experience starting and stopping, and then I said, “Just get in the right lane. No passing. Just follow whatever car is in front of you and go the speed limit.” That business of following someone else at first, even if they are the slowest, clunkiest, trailer on the road, is still a good way to begin.
3. Plan in advance how you’ll stop if you need to. Besides staying in the right lane, I knew that we would only switch drivers in wayside rests. No intown driving, no cloverleaves or complicated off-ramps. Just pulling over to a big parking lot on the side of the road.
4. Only do the one thing. In this case, it was driving. At first, we had no radio, no conversation about anything but driving, no eating. In the passenger’s seat, I did not answer phone calls or even look at maps. It was all driving, all the time, for both of us, until that was very comfortable and easy.
5. Consider challenging situations that might arise before they do, when life is calm. Talk about what to watch for in other drivers, to know when they might do something unpredictable. What to do if bad weather hits. What if a flat tire occurs.
6. Verbalizing things that you do intuitively will impress you with the complexity of what you know. In driving, as in other parts of life, there are hundreds of automatic decisions made. As we drive for years on end, we aren’t even conscious of many of them. I found it interesting and fun to speak out loud about things such as whether or not I trust another driver or when to pull back or when to push forward on the road.
7. Despite good planning, life will surprise you. We had planned for me to be back at the wheel long before Chicago, when we assumed the driving would get rough. But suddenly, on a country road that looked as if it would be clear and easy, bad fog came up simultaneously with road construction. There was nothing to do but live through it until there was a safe place to pull off.
8. Handling the unexpected situations well will give you confidence. After fog and road construction, I was more willing to say perhaps it would be OK to think about passing other cars, since that was much easier than what we had already lived through!
9. Take time to enjoy and appreciate progress. I probably told my 16 year old thirty or forty times what a great job I thought she was doing. And I meant it. But I could see that hearing my appreciation built her confidence and she was not annoyed by my repetition.
10. Plan to build on what you’ve learned. Now that we’re home from a highway trip, we’ll begin learning how to drive in town, which involves a whole different set of lessons. But the confidence from the road trip will spill into the local driving and make it easier.