Friday, March 28, 2008

The Lives They Save May Be Their Own

Teach your children well.

That is one particular aspect of the numerous recommendations made by Teen Driver Study Commission that I heartily endorse.

It comes to pass in the life of every parent that right of passage for both parent and child when little Johnny arrives home, proudly waving his brand new driver’s permit at you. With trepidation we parents watch the count down to “D” Day, Driver Day. When it arrives, we draw in a deep breath and begin the journey to ultimate, mutual liberation that starts with our children driving a car --- we parents, the reluctant, and our little darlings, chomping at the bit.

Typically our children take the driver’s Ed classes at school and pass their written test there. Then, quite often, we send them off for some behind the wheel time with some pricey, professional driving school that all their friends supposedly flock to. They pass their road test and are good to go. So our little darlings think.

Not really, says I who had to slide into the passenger’s seat with my inexperienced daughters for the first time as they took control of the wheel of the family car. Sure that all my insurance was paid up, last confession heard, deep breathing or hyperventilation, if you will, we navigated our way down Main Street. The braveheart in me directed them toward one of those infamous Flemington traffic circles. Wishing and hoping and dreaming and praying, I talked them through it.

This is the moment that instructs the task at hand. Learning driving rules, how to turnover the engine, or even parallel parking do not a driver make. A driver is someone who knows how to address the various road surfaces and varied weather conditions, as well as driver and pedestrian errors. As any seasoned driver knows, being right does not necessarily prevent an accident or worse. As the ominous TV commercials rightfully remind us, we can be dead right. These too are the lessons we parents must teach our children because we are the coaches, riding with them, advising them in city and highway traffic, parking in tight squeeze situations, avoiding deer or even on techniques to keep them from locking their keys in the car---through rain, snow, sleet and the dead of night. This mastery takes practice and repetition. Phase 1 is rule mastery and Phase 2 is practice, practice and more practice.

Why these new guidelines now? Far too many accidents. Years ago in the absence of all these driving schools, dad or mom took you out to practice for hours. That was driver’s Ed, behind the wheel. I cannot tell you how surprised I was to learn how much things had changed when my kids got their licenses some 8 to 10 years ago. I knew brand new drivers who had not navigated a Flemington circle or the corner of Route 31 and Church Street but were ready to drive their good buddies on Route 22, a veritable war zone. You know the new driver ”Back Off World” machismo.

Practice has been sorely lacking in today’s driver training. Almost every teen driver I knew had an accident in the first few months after getting his or her license, luckily not a serious one.

I would not necessarily single out just one group of drivers in need of reform. We have seniors who need to be looked out for, cell phone users, regardless of the stiff new fines in play, and road rage in general seems more prevalent. A marked push for driver courtesy all around may reduce numbers of all those so-called proverbial ”New Jersey Drivers”. Although I am not convinced about the efficacy of all the recommendations submitted for review, I could not be happier about requiring probationary drivers to log in 100 hours of practice time, 20 of them being done at night. Absolutely, this guideline is right on track. Teach your children well because the lives they save maybe their own.

The opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the author.

Stay tuned.

No comments: