Bracing for the Crash

I got a very good piece of advice from a friend whose oldest child is a few years older than mine: do not, under any circumstances, buy a new car within two years of your child’s taking Driver’s Ed. My friend did, and her Toyota Highlander hybrid now bears a series of minor scars inflicted by the daughter she came to call, jokingly, “Crashy.”

So far, my daughter has only nicked a fence post in our driveway. But I am prepared for worse. I have come to realize that this 16-year-old, who is more mature and responsible than many adults I know, and to whom I would entrust my life in countless other situations, does not know what she’s doing behind the wheel of a car. She has completed the required driver’s ed classes–conducted, she said, by an instructor who spoke agonizingly slowly because Massachusetts law mandates only hours of class time, not mastery of content–and has been out with a driving teacher 8 or 9 times. But whenever I let her drive with me, she says confidence-inspiring things like, “Whoa, this is scary!” and “Oh no, traffic!”

I appreciate her honesty; it is indeed strange and frightening to sit in the passenger seat while the child who once had trouble mastering a tricycle commands what my friend Tim called (when his daughter was learning to drive), “a speeding death machine.” Driving is not intuitive to someone who hasn’t been doing it for 30 years. My daughter, for instance, still has trouble figuring out which way to turn the steering wheel when she backs out of a space. And the other day, she started to follow the car in front of her directly through a four-way stop sign. In her defense, I was playing iPhone Scrabble at the time–a diversion I quickly abandoned right before I yelled “STOP! DON’T YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO OBEY THE SIGN, TOO?” Apparently, she didn’t. I calmed down and explained how to navigate a four-way intersection (didn’t they cover that in Driver’s Ed?). When we got home, I found a triple-letter spot for my Q.

A few weeks ago I let her drive home from Cambridge, which required a difficult merge in heavy traffic onto a highway under construction. (Thankfully, I’d had a cocktail.) She stopped at the stop sign on top of the ramp and waited, instead of inching forward and forcing her way into the traffic stream, as an experienced driver might have. The cars behind us started honking and swerving, irritated, around her. I wanted to kill them. And this is how driving with my daughter has made me a better person: now, whenever I see a car traveling erratically or too slowly or too close to the curb, I no longer think, “Asshole!” Instead, I imagine generously, “It must be a teenager learning to drive.”

About Susan H. Greenberg

Susan H. Greenberg spent 22 years as a journalist for Newsweek Magazine. She now works as a writer, editor, teacher, and parent of three children, with whom she strives always to maintain a varnish-free relationship.
This entry was posted in Family life, Kids, Parenting, Reality check, Teenagers and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Bracing for the Crash

  1. marn JENSEN says:

    i hope she learns the signature g-berg shout out
    to “GO!” immediately when the light turns green.
    (none of that slow, mid-western “easing” into it.)

  2. Andi Pollinger says:

    This one is close to my heart having been in a very serious accident just one year ago this week while my older son was driving. Distractions come in all forms; changing a radio station, looking in the mirror, turning on the wipers and yes, talking with mom about a day at camp. And yet, experts will tell you the best thing you can do is to drive with your teen for as long and as often as you can. Letting them drive alone isn’t nearly as effective – provided you’re being as attentive as they need to be. And to really get kids to understand how serious this is, have them take one of the many advanced driving programs which teach many of the things they don’t cover in drivers ed. Parents can observe the class for free. Look for one near you at In Control Crash Prevention at . By the end of this weekend, our whole family will have taken the class. I took it in April and it has changed the way I drive! You can also visit the teen driving section of which has some great tips for parents and teens with plenty of humor sprinkled throughout.

  3. as a mom of a 17 yo girl and a 16 yo boy, i feel that every parent that is the “instructor” deserves daily medal of honors for their bravery!
    when my son came to a red light, stopped and was turning right, i said, “you know you can take a right on red.” well, the next time we were at that red light he just turned right without stopping or even looking. when i shouted, “what are you doing????!!!!” he replied, “YOU said i could take a right on red…” arghhhhh…..

  4. There are many more lessons ahead, Mom, for both of you. 🙂

  5. mary says:

    Simply glad to hear that times do not change. When I was 16, with a new license in my wallet, I dropped my mother off at church and headed to a high school meeting. Not a half block away from the church I spun the car around and ended up hugging a tree. After talking to the owner of the tree I went back to church and told my mother I never wanted to drive again. Instead, she told me to get in the car, go to the meeting, and come back and get her after the meeting. Years later I realized she didn’t want to cart me around forever, and I thank her for that. And, oh, by the way, the first couple of cars I had I was in an accident within the first few weeks of owning them. At least I grew out of that phase…..

  6. Great post. My son is doing driver’s training now and I keep thinking he’ll be okay since he’s been racing go karts since he was 8 years old. Then I realize…all he can do is drive fast and turn left 🙂 I think I have a long road ahead of me!

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