My daughter and most of her friends are deep in the throes of learning to drive. Even the ones who already have their licenses are still learning, as evidenced by the stories I’m hearing about speeding tickets, fender benders and suspension of privileges.
The day after my daughter’s 16th birthday, we made our way to the Driver License Center and she passed their computer-based, multiple-choice permit test. She had studied hard and had proven her knowledge of the rules of the road. I was proud and excited for her, having not given much thought to what would happen next.
After starting off with several sessions navigating parking lots, we proceeded out on to the road. Initially, she seemed to have some aversion to the yellow line down the middle of the road. It was May and open-window season, and (thanks to her desire to hug the right side of the road) I was slapped repeatedly in the head by tree branches. A lot of yelling and several trips later, with the floor of my minivan littered with leaves, she finally managed to center the vehicle in the lane.
On our first foray onto the interstate, I learned that using a highway on-ramp is not covered in the driver’s manual. It seems that looking over one’s shoulder while moving takes more coordination than the average teenager has. After a near-death experience with a tractor-trailer, I told her it is always okay to stop at the end of an on-ramp and take your time. Unfortunately, she took that as a rule. The next time, she brought the car to a complete stop with an open highway before her and a steady stream of impatient, horn-honking drivers behind her.
My attempts to teach her to come to a stop in a gradual and controlled manner have so far proven fruitless. Coming up on a stop sign, I find myself yelling, “Slow down!” Her response, as she screeches to a halt is, “I stopped in time!” Explaining to someone who does not yet have a fully developed frontal lobe that stopping doesn’t need to be a painful experience takes a great deal of tact.
More than once she has yelled, “Stop screaming at me!” How to explain that being indecisive at the split of two interstates (after I have clearly pointed out that we will bear right towards Scranton) requires an immediate, loud and alarming tone of voice.
Only once did I find it absolutely necessary to have her stop so we could change places, and she willingly agreed. It was a late Saturday morning at Dunkin’ Donuts. I knew well enough to have her enter the parking lot through the back entrance to avoid the danger-fraught main entrance. The sight of the drive-thru line twisting around the parking lot in its strange way (that is only understood by frequent flyers) scares even me. Taking in the caffeine-deprived souls seething in their cars, some laying on horns, others making obscene gestures out their windows, we both knew she wasn’t ready for that.
Prior to her Sweet 16, I had been looking forward to not being her personal Uber anymore. I envisioned free time, having her carpool her sisters and run errands for me. My only fears were related to the many distractions teens have to contend with now, ones we didn’t have a generation ago. The ringing and beeping of the phone signaling text messages, status updates and Snap Chats can cause a constant commotion. Add in the many music choices like Spotify, Pandora and a music library of thousands of songs all at their fingertips, and you have one very preoccupied teenager. In the 80s, it was a few channels on a radio with no other options and no phones.
I wake from nightmares of her out there driving on her own. I’m shrieking and gasping. I find myself saying, “I couldn’t have been this bad a driver at 16!” I grip the arm rest and slam my foot to the floor to no avail, even though I am in the passenger seat.
I long to be one of those composed parents — the ones who don’t swear, who speak in only even tones and who have that certain way of inspiring their students with their eloquent delivery. Instead, I dread the day of her road test as much as our next lesson together. I listen closely to other parents about teen driver hacks. All I want is for her and everyone else in her proximity to be safe. So, I have a plan. I will confiscate her phone while she takes the road test. On it, I will download a selection of the latest apps such as:
TextArrest — This locks the phone’s screen when the car is traveling faster than 5 mph so no texts or e-mails can be sent or read.
SafeDrive — This one monitors location and driving practices of newly licensed teens and alerts parents when kids exceed a specific speed.
ZoomSafer — This limits access to e-mail, texting, browsing, and calling when a teen is on the road.
Key2SafeDriving — This one restricts phone use when the car is running and sends automatic replies to calls and texts.