Driving Me Crazy: A View From the Passenger's Seat
© B. L. Bierley 2012
It is official! My daughter DaVelma now has her learner’s permit. Once you all stop screaming, I’d like to state for the record that I am sorry, Mom, for every minute of stress and every grey hair I ever gave you.
Don’t get me wrong. DaVelma is no stranger to driving. She’s been practicing her driving skills since she was two years old. That’s when her grandparents and aunts and uncles gave her a Barbie Jeep for Christmas. She’s improved a bit since then. She’s a Go-Cart maniac, a golf cart aficionado and she even has some time logged on an ever-increasing assortment of tractor equipment. DaVelma gets behind the wheel whenever an opportunity presents itself.
Throughout her childhood, Grease often let her drive actual full-sized automobiles on his property out in the middle of nowhere. In preparations for her upcoming legal permission to take to the road with a licensed driver in the passenger’s seat, I would occasionally let her drive from our house to the edge of our neighborhood. DaVelma’s comfortable demeanor while enjoying these privileges lulled me into a false sense of security.
Smile for the Camera
On her fifteenth birthday we were up at the crack of dawn and on our way to the DMV. After waiting in line for over 2 hours (In the DMV’s defense, we did arrive before they opened. But that was only due to an error on the website’s “Hours of Operation”. Nevertheless, we were still fifth in line!), DaVelma was able to take the test at long last. She passed with 100% accuracy. I was so proud!
As we paid the fee I looked at her temporary permit. Just like every other drivers' permit or license on the planet, the photo was horrible. Her blank expression proved they didn’t even try to get her attention when they were about to snap the shot. In no way did that picture represent her happiness at that moment. Seriously y’all, add height graduation lines on a white background and it’s a mug shot! That was the only dark spot on her long-awaited day.
Since I’m a firm believer in hands-on learning I willingly handed DaVelma the keys as we left the DMV office. My plan was to let her drive as often as possible once it was legal for her to do so. I figured at least that way I’d be there to witness her ability firsthand and also bear witness to whatever happened as my fledgling driver learned the rules of the road. As a mother of a teenaged driver I have begun studying my own driving abilities more closely—especially when I get the privilege of actually driving my car. As much as I looked forward to the day when my daughter could drive, I never realized how involved the process really was until I gave her the keys that first time.
That New Car Smell (AKA Fear)
The parking lot at our DMV is a hinky dink set-up with narrow spaces and very poor visibility for backing out. Right off the line, an incoming driver honked at DaVelma as she was backing out of our space. The driver really only did it so we would know she or he was there, but DaVelma (who was already plenty nervous) squealed so loudly my eardrums vibrated for the next ten minutes. After I explained the driver’s intentions, she took a deep breath and backed out without further incident.
The remainder of our drive was less-harrowing—for her. It was only a few miles to our destination. We were going to our local IHOP to celebrate her success with a family breakfast before I had to go to work. Cap and Ziggy were meeting us at the restaurant. Then Cap was going to take DaVelma to her orthodontist’s appointment.
On her fledgling journey I noticed a significant potential hazard right away. My usually over-confident daughter was suddenly more cautious than our cat Scooby when confronted by a stranger. DaVelma was hesitant turning right, even though no cars were within two blocks of us. And four snails and a recent hip-surgery recipient with a walker got through the intersection faster than DaVelma made her first left turn. Okay, so maybe I exaggerated that a little. But it was pretty obvious to anyone watching nearby that she wasn’t too keen on making that left turn. By the time we reached the restaurant I was almost too keyed-up to eat.
Whatever I was actually feeling that morning I kept on the inside. It was tamped down inside a steel box we’ll label, “Things That Could Crush DaVelma’s Self-Confidence”. The lid was reinforced with steel chains and a master lock with no key. Outwardly I praised DaVelma. I assured her that she would only improve with practice. It really was the truth. DaVelma only lacked the wisdom of experience. And nobody has to tell her that the nail marks and grip impressions left on the door handle and upholstery were mine.
DaVelma was an eager driver from that moment on. Unfortunately a side effect of our supportive praise meant that she often doesn’t even realize the true danger in certain situations. Cap is still a bit shaken by her first session in his beloved truck. As I wasn’t there I’m not completely sure what happened. Apparently there was a narrow bridge with a curb that could have meant the difference between a head-on collision and a flip into a creek ditch. His calm suggestions to DaVelma to move further to the left to avoid hitting the curb went unheeded. Luckily she made it over the bridge without incident. Even so, Cap is certain his life flashed before his eyes.
Smoke and Mirrors
Now that I’ve let her drive my car, DaVelma is forever adjusting the seat before she drives. Anything with an electronic adjustment knob is not safe from her tweaking. I’m debating learning to drive with my elbows rather than have to re-adjust the seat and steering wheel every day. Her defense for these constant changes is that she needs to be able to see out of the side mirrors better. I’d believe her, but she adjusts those too! They now point downward so she can see the lines on the road.
That’s another issue with her confidence in the driver’s seat. DaVelma is surprisingly terrified of oncoming traffic. She doesn’t yet trust the rest of the licensed drivers of the world not to venture into her lane and kill us all. And the mere sight of a police officer turns her into a paranoid basket case. One example was the first time she was attempting to make a right turn where there was only a yield sign. As there was no oncoming traffic I assured her it was okay to go ahead through the intersection after she’d already come to an unnecessary stop. But as she began turning out onto the road, a police car approached from the opposite direction. DaVelma slammed on the brakes so fast I nearly face planted into the dash.
Another thing I did not expect from my fearless daughter was her sudden amnesia as to how to get to our usual destinations. Every errand or trip to the grocery store puts me in the role of navigator for the directionally-challenged. I say challenged because her ability to remember the location of places she’s been multiple times in the last eight years has suddenly disappeared like a puff of smoke. It wouldn’t be so bad having to navigate if I didn’t have other tasks occupying my position in the passenger’s seat. Things like holding on while she takes a curve like a NASCAR qualifier, calculating the distance of the projected inflation of the airbags in relation to my seat position, or being on the lookout for unexpected obstacles or distractions are difficult to manage while functioning as a live GPS.
Whenever I’m riding in the passenger’s seat with my daughter at the wheel, I sometimes wish for a way to warn fellow drivers who are unknowingly traveling the road at the same time. Seriously, there should be some sort of device on the market where parents with new teenaged drivers can reflect some sort of pattern projection onto the surface of the vehicle to alert others of the potential hazards of an untutored driver in their midst. Sometimes I just give the disgruntled drivers who pass us a sheepish look as if to say, “Yes, she’s new. Thanks for your patience.”
In her defense, DaVelma continues to improve the more she drives. And she does a bang-up job (no pun intended) of finding the nearest available parking space with no cars on either side of her chosen spot. I just wear comfortable shoes and continue to tell her what a good job she’s doing. I’m much more confident with her at the wheel than I was two weeks ago when she first started. In fact the only places I haven’t let her drive are the parkways and interstates nearby. I want to check my life insurance to make sure my premiums are paid and up to date first.
You’re in Good Hands
For all you other parents out there with teenagers nearing their own rite of passage, please take a few tips from me. Along with prayer and good, clean living, it helps if you do the following:
1. Be patient.—Yelling at them when they’re about to go off the shoulder will not remedy the problem to anyone’s satisfaction.
2. Have your insurance cards in accessible locations.—It’s practically a guarantee that if you don’t you’re going to need to produce it at some point in the adventure.
3. Wear comfortable, less-restrictive clothes and shoes.—It lessens the stress when you’re not wearing clothes that itch or bind.
4. Know the rules of the road.—At some point you will be asked to defend a directive you give, and you need to be prepared to back that up with factual data.
5. Last and most important of all: Bring your sense of humor!—New drivers of any age are going to have moments of panic. Being able to laugh it off will make the experience less traumatizing and therefore less likely to be repeated.