Saturday, August 24, 2013

Driven to Distraction

Earlier this summer (much earlier this summer), we received a postcard for the "New Driver" at our address. It promoted a local driving school where "eligible students 15 3/4 years old" could enroll for the state mandated 30 hours of classroom instruction prior to getting a junior operator's license. In addition, this rather crowded card promised a 2-hour parents' class, 12 hours of road instruction and 6 hours of observation.

Is your head spinning? Mine was.

When we received the card, I checked the date. My daughter was 15 3/4 that very day. 

Impressive target marketing.

We live in a small town up the coast from Boston. There are beaches, shops, frozen yogurt and pizza within walking distance. But my daughter has to bum a ride for anything farther away: her stable, the mall, her stable, the cineplex, her stable ... you get the idea. Of course, she's eager for the autonomy a license promises.

Meanwhile, I promised to call the driving school and set her up. But, between events both happy (a riding clinic in Vermont, a visitor from Spain) and very sad (a beloved grandparent passing away), here we are with the summer almost over and no closer to her license.

Massachusetts has strict guidelines about driver education. This is a very good thing (even if it's making my life more complicated right now). Still, I'm a little unclear on what the 2-hour parents' test is all about. Hello? I've been driving for 23 years. (Yes, for those of you who bother to do the math, I didn't get a driver's license until I was 28. Three words: New York City.)

My daughter can take the test for her learner's permit on her 16th birthday — although she's quick to point out that the universe is terribly unfair; her birthday falls on a Sunday so she'll have to wait an entire extra day. Then we have six months for her to learn how to operate a 4,000 pound piece of machinery, and negotiate an obsolete highway system filled with stupid at best (maniacal at worst) road warriors. 

And that's not the half of it.

The biggest challenge will be to impress upon her that her cell phone and texts and Instagram and Vine and FaceTime and Skype and ... and .. and ... have to take a back seat now. Literally. We're already talking about strategies.

She came up with the idea of locking her phone in the glove compartment. Great! (I'm not being sarcastic, for a change; I really think this is great.) But, she plans to leave the volume on so she can hear when she gets a new message or a voicemail. Then, she asserts, she'll pull over and check. Not so great. I don't like the idea of my tiny teen pulling over every five minutes. Not only does this seem less than safe, but at the rate she gets texts she'll never reach her destination! So, we're still discussing this. And, I won't hesitate to pull rank.

At least she seems to understand the inherent danger of staying connected while in motion.

I also worry about the bad habits she may have picked up from her loving mother. Anticipating my baby behind the wheel, it seems to me that the most important thing you can do to stay safe driving is to focus. Focus on your driving, your vehicle, the road, other drivers. This is easier said than done.

Here's what my daughter has seen me do behind the wheel:

- Apply makeup (yes, really, I'm sorry)
- Drink coffee
- Eat a bagel or a muffin or a Zone bar
- Search for a specific CD
- Search for change that fell between the seat and the center console
- Fish printed directions out of my briefcase
- Read said printed directions
- Make phone calls
- Get phone calls
- Participate in conference calls
- Lead conference calls
- Listen to voicemail
- Read text and Facebook messages — but only at red lights, I promise

Fear not. With my daughter's license looming, I am already changing my wicked ways. Funny how much easier it is to break bad habits for the sake of someone else's safety. Especially when that someone is still your baby.

I guess I need that parents' class after all.

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