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The driver who really gets the education during driver's ed
Old 10-05-2008, 02:35 AM   #1
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The driver who really gets the education during driver's ed

I spent my career as a steely-eyed killer of the deep-- a silent hunter trained to deliver sudden death via nuclear missiles or torpedoes. I learned all about surviving on station and calmly reacting to crises with coordinated teamwork. Later I became an expert instructor of high-risk training in firefighting and flooding emergencies and I taught hundreds of Navy instructors how to run their own training programs. I didn't laugh in the face of danger but I certainly smirked a few times, and I think I know how to teach.

However in the last five months I've learned the true meaning of constant fear sprinkled with abject terror. And apparently I'm the most clueless teacher on the planet.

Yes, I'm the parent of a teenager with a driving permit.

The first stage of learning to drive can best be described as "abject paralysis". Our kid was scared of anything with closing relative motion, especially if it had legs or an engine. The wheel was clutched with ivory-white knuckles. The gas pedal was treated as a weapon of mass acceleration. Intersections were filled with terror, approached at 10 MPH, and only crossed when the light had been green for at least five seconds and everything else within 100 yards had stopped moving. (Think of Bambi creeping into a forest clearing.) Speed limits were treated with a safety factor of at least 2:1. The licensed adult driver was consulted every quarter-mile and before any course/speed change. "Blanking out" and "freezing" were common, as was random braking. Parents expected to be rammed from behind at every curve. Professional driving instructors deserve hazardous-duty pay.

That first stage may seem pretty bad but it's nothing compared to the second stage: "loss of all fear". By this point our supremely confident teen, unblemished and immortal, had memorized the driver's manual and learned that everything had to obey the rules of the road. Jackrabbits scrambled to keep up with our green-light acceleration, speed limits were redlined until the last possible braking moment, and no break in the traffic was too small for an abrupt lane change. Every other driver was subject to withering critiques of their technique (or lack thereof). Mistakes may have been made but our driver was never in doubt-- "Hey, I had the right-of-way!! Didn't I?!?"

The third stage, however, is the most insidiously dangerous of all. By now, the (surviving) parents have decided that all the screaming & crying is over. Not only are they drained and finally regaining their composure, but their teens are much more consistent. The "Law of Gross Tonnage" is appreciated, lane changes are no longer filled with piñata-style suspense or impacts, they use their mirrors, and they almost always remember to check the blind spots. Life is good… until the parent realizes that they've been lulled into a sense of false security. The new driver has merely advanced to spicing up hours of boring routine with microseconds of screeching brakes, blaring horns, and screams of fright. "Where did that come from? It wasn't there a second ago!!"

We may be stuck in stage three for now, but luckily we're only 32 days away from the road test so I may never have to deal with the fourth stage: blasé boredom and overconfidence coupled with contempt for the instructor. "This is no fun anymore, what do you mean I can't turn on the radio?" "My foot gets tired, why shouldn't I use the cruise control?" "My cell phone is ringing, that might be Jacob!" "Hey, look, a Starbucks drive-through!"

Just when you think things can't get any worse, and that the light at the end of the tunnel will always be in your lane, you realize that the road test requires a demonstration of parallel parking.

I don't know about you guys, but when my teen driver parks in parallel I have my hands full with the student-- let alone all the uncontrollable environmental factors. Even if you're lucky enough to find a reasonably large space at the curb it's still hard to also keep an eye on the passing traffic, the fenders of your car, the fenders of the other cars fore & aft, the pedestrian, the mailbox, the lamppost, what gear we're in, which pedal the foot is on, the guy who drives right up behind you and blocks the space, and the nice police officer strolling over to offer helpful advice. Hey, that was fun, let's try it all again! And again! And again...

So we finally measured the parking spaces along the route of the road test (17 feet long, 7.5 feet wide). We set up our own space in a cul-de-sac so there's no traffic and no other parked cars. Training aids include red duct tape on the road (I'm all out of white), two large trash cans (heavy-gauge plastic), and a handy lava-rock mailbox pillar. Technically I'm supposed to be sitting in the front passenger seat, but I temporarily shifted my command to a driveway chair while the car turns circles within 100 feet of my station. And I could take photos.

We learned that we needed to make one minor change by moving the trash cans 20 feet apart instead of 17 feet. An hour later, parallel parking is going much more smoothly. The driver's focus is on the mechanics without all the accompanying hazards. The driver's eyeball is much more calibrated to the size of the hole, the approach, and the effects of rudder & propulsion on advance & transfer. Both sideview mirrors are now used. We both appreciate not having a front-seat driver offering helpful suggestions. I appreciate not having to say anything until the pier landing is over and all lines are secured.

I think this is all going to work out OK. But if you're planning a trip to Oahu, you might want to hold off until early 2009 when all the other local drivers have been able to relax too…
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Old 10-05-2008, 03:13 AM   #2
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Poor trash can had to give its life for a higher purpose. Great story.
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Old 10-05-2008, 03:34 AM   #3
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Trashcans! That's the ticket. I was wondering what I was going to use during parallel parking instruction with my hormone maddened teenager.

Driver's training was temporarily suspended due to Hurricane Ike having left trees and debris all over the place. I have appreciated the break. The last trip out was on a Sunday morning and I allowed him to venture out into new areas. Time slipped away from me and traffic built up as the morning progressed. It was all going to fine until he was less than a mile from the house and two Kamikaze like lane changes had me wondering if it was illegal for me to drink while teaching.

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But I used my signal, isn't he supposed to let me over? Besides, he was going way over the speed limit.

No to the first and yes to the second, which is why I leaned over to grab the wheel and keep us in this lane.
I haven't had moments like this since I was training young lawmen. One night a rookie was driving when he failed to notice a significant event.

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You need to turn around and chase that guy.

Which guy?

The one in the red car that almost hit us head on when he ran that red light while driving on the wrong side of the road. He just turned, killed his headlights and is evading arrest.
Two minutes later we were in a ditch. I was really happy that the beverage I was enjoying at the time was cold Dr. Pepper rather than hot coffee, because my fingers went through the styrofoam as we rolled down into a 12' deep ditch.
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Old 10-05-2008, 09:11 AM   #4
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I believe these are the hazards of going from zero driving experience to driver's license, in the period of six months or so. By the time I'd reached sixteen, I'd driven lawn mowers, tractors, and pickups, in relatively safe locations like a lawn, barnyard, or pasture. Plus the occasional joyride in the '62 Chevy I was soon to "inherit".

Of course, the added driving experience only marginally compensated for the teenage attitude...
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Old 10-05-2008, 09:24 AM   #5
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The part I remember most, is the one in which DD would concentrate so much on one thing like shifting, or the pedals, that thinking about where the car was actually going was no longer a consideration.

I found that "Watch where you're going!" took too long to say, so we agreed that whenever I yelled "Steer!' she would look out the windshield and steer the car.
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Old 10-05-2008, 09:25 AM   #6
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I was wondering what I was going to use during parallel parking instruction with my hormone maddened teenager.
Orange cones stuffed with explosives!

Well, as long as they THINK theres explosives in them...
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Old 10-05-2008, 09:50 AM   #7
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Glad we don't have any teenagers. Don't know how Dad survived it - I just remember that since I'd already overhauled the car, I already knew how to drive it, and Dad was the dumbest idiot east of the Mississippi. By the time I was 21 he'd sure learned a lot though.
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Old 10-05-2008, 10:09 AM   #8
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Thanks for sharing your story! We had an old VW Beetle that my Dad stripped down and put roll bars on - turned it into a home-made dune buggy. We called it the "Purple People Eater". I started learning to drive it around 13 or 14, I think. Here's an old pic of it (with my Dad and brothers). My Dad was a tough teacher; made me stop on a hill and repeatedly pull out (driving a clutch). I hated it then but appreciate it all now; sure do miss him!
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Old 10-05-2008, 10:40 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by HFWR View Post
I believe these are the hazards of going from zero driving experience to driver's license, in the period of six months or so. By the time I'd reached sixteen, I'd driven lawn mowers, tractors, and pickups, in relatively safe locations like a lawn, barnyard, or pasture. Plus the occasional joyride in the '62 Chevy I was soon to "inherit".

Of course, the added driving experience only marginally compensated for the teenage attitude...
I bought my first car ('65 mustang) when I was only 15 (1971). I had the guy I bought it from drive it to a roller rink owned by my girlfriend's father. Nobody I knew could drive stick, so I taught myself how to drive in the middle of the night when the lot was empty. This was in Lynchburg VA, where there is no such thing as a flat surface. So before I turned 16 I also had to teach myself how to replace a clutch.
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Old 10-05-2008, 10:43 AM   #10
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Over the years I've enjoyed watching the parental cringes and looks of horror, as the neighborhood young'uns started driver's ed. Thus far none of them have driven through any houses or garages....their own or others....yet. However we do have a neighbor girl that will be starting her missile aiming capabilities driver's training this school year. If she's been picking up any driving skills from her friends, then I think I need to look into installing guardrails around the perimeter of our property.....her friends aren't the best drivers on the planet. In fact I wonder if "driver" is even an acceptable term for what they're attempting to do behind the wheel.

I learned to drive in my Grandad's old Chevy pickup when I was 8 or 9. And by the time I was 12 or 13, I was driving his 2.5 ton grain truck....on the road. So when it came time to "learn how to drive" at 16, I was a bit ahead of the curve, and driving the family Dodge or VW was a piece o' cake! Most of my buddies learned to drive in barnyards & pastures when they were young, and there was always a tractor around to pull them out of the creeks and ravines when they goofed.

This year IL has mandated a greater length of time in driver's training, and behind the wheel practice, before the young'uns can get their license. They also set limitations on WHO can be in the vehicle after they get their licenses. In other words, they can't have a car load of distractions friends with them. The only kids they can have in the car are immediate family members, and/or (IIRC) ONE non-family member kid under age 20.......
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the graduated license holder may not operate a motor vehicle with more than one passenger in the vehicle who is under the age of 20, unless any additional passenger or passengers are siblings, step-siblings, children, or stepchildren of the driver. - (625 ILCS 5/6-107g)
....the days of cramming 12-16 kids in a car after a football game are over....and the local constabulary have been rigidly enforcing the law in this area. Glad I'm not a kid anymore.....too many rules that would get me into trouble.
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Old 10-05-2008, 10:51 AM   #11
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Thanks for sharing Nords!

Here in Virginia, my DD is still very much in stage one but with a twist ~ she's AFRAID to drive....and she says "not because of my ability....but because of all of those OTHER crazy drivers".....

So she has her learner's permit (almost a month now) and we are ready (and pushing her) to do our part with our OOPs I crapped my pants adult diapers ready to deploy....and we have to document 45 hours of behing the wheel time (15 of which must be after sunset ) .....but she is extremely reluctant to get behind the wheel....so much so that we only have an hour or so of driving time in the past 30 days!!

Now I see what I have to look forward too.....if she ever gets motivated!
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Old 10-05-2008, 11:12 AM   #12
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What an entertaining story Nords!

I'm a lot like HFWR in that I drove anything with an engine (started when I was 13) in rural areas.

Here's a pic of me standing in front of my first car with my dad. I was the ripe old age of 16. He looks relaxed, right?
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Old 10-05-2008, 11:20 AM   #13
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Here's a pic of me standing in front of my first car with my dad. I was the ripe old age of 16. He looks relaxed, right?
A '70 Ford Maverick perchance? That's what my 2nd car was, but mine was rusty with what was left of a black factory paint job.
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Old 10-05-2008, 11:27 AM   #14
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It was a 1972 Maverick...you were just off a couple of years. The pic is old, so the paint looks a little dull, but it wasn't. It was a bright red/orange color with black interior. The cloth seats were black and white. It was sharp...I thought I was the bomb tooling around in it!

I put a bumper sticker on it that said "Honk If You're Horny". I thought it was hysterical...my dad didn't. He scraped it off.
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Old 10-06-2008, 07:04 PM   #15
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When I was learning how to drive, my dad had his own version of a driving test: not only did I have to learn to parallel park, but also back up a 150 ft long driveway and back in the garage space. And, Dad thought it was a good idea to teach me how to change a tire and change the oil in the car -- just in case! (At the time, I thought he was out of his mind.)

When it was time to teach DD, guess what? We taught her just as my dad taught me! And now, among her friends, she is the ONLY one who can really parallel park -- some of her friends will drive around the block looking for a "drive in" spot rather than even trying to parallel park!!
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Old 10-06-2008, 07:23 PM   #16
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dh2b's 16 yr old was with us the other day. he has exactly 1 time driving experience with his mother on a brand new permit, in a very small development with no traffic.
he "offered" to drive my car for us in regular medium busy traffic. i gave him my best smile and the old "that falls into the category of when hell freezes over" answer. case closed.
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Old 10-06-2008, 07:43 PM   #17
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bbbamI, that is an awesome picture and a real smoking hot ride. My DH had a bitchin' Camaro, and he misses it still.
I had an old 82 Chevy Blazer as my beloved high school car, and got it stuck in many a muddy field back in the day. Dad still hates riding with me, even now!
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Old 10-06-2008, 08:32 PM   #18
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Back in the dim ages the pater familia had a 1951(?) Ford sedan that was going to become a dune machine - never happened. Fun car - the driver's seat back was kept from falling back by the aid of a 2x6 propped against the back seat. This was on a twenty acre place, the folks were getting started on their fantasy of raising registered Herefords - anyway, we had about 5 acres that was clear and fenced with brand new cedar posts and 4 strands of barbed wire. Recall Dad taking me out and teaching me to do 4 wheel drifts as an introduction to driving. We did a number of circuits, then he got my Mom so i could show her what I'd learned. We did one lap, on the next lap i went a bit hot and over confident and slid/parallel parked between two of the posts, taking out all the fresh barbed wire, and ending up in the neighbor's newly sprouted field. Leaving trenches. Which kinda ended the driving lessons for a while. It is possible that Mom and Dad had a discussion, though i didn't hear it. Ah parenting.
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