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By Sally Torbey

Driving instruction is our parenting challenge

Uploaded: Nov 17, 2013

Our daughter turned 13 a few weeks ago. Of course we are thrilled to have another teenager in the house, especially one so sensible that she has not asked for a Facebook account yet. Still, looking at all those candles on the cake gave me pause. A quick calculation confirmed my fears, only two and a half more years before we teach her to drive!

In most areas of parenting, my husband and I are lucky to have complementary skills. When one of us lacks in confidence or ability, the other parent steps up. Driving instruction is one notable exception. In addition to the requirement of six hours of professional behind the wheel instruction, in order to obtain their license, teenagers under the age of 18 are required to have 50 additional hours of practice with a parent. We try to out source these hours with professional instructors, but for some puzzling reason our kids prefer to drive with us.

My husband learned to drive in his country of origin under sniper fire. Staying alive was a higher priority than stopping at stop signs and following the rules of the road. To this day, in his hometown, stop signs are considered merely "a suggestion". A few years back, the first stoplight was installed. A soldier in a tank with a machine gun was also installed at the intersection so drivers would notice and stop at the red light. There are no designated lanes, and if traffic is backed up, drivers careen over the median and drive the wrong way on the other side of the highway.

Understandably, driving in the US was one of my husband's more difficult cultural adjustments. He received a lot of driving citations, culminating with a letter from the DMV informing him that "driving is a privilege and not a right", and that he was among the top 3 percent worst drivers in the state. My husband eventually adjusted his habits and has not had a citation for many decades, but he is still a little hazy on some of the finer points when trying to teach the kids driving skills.

If we had known how unsuited I also am to this task, we might have settled for fewer children. This is yet again an instance of my not appreciating my parents sufficiently. My mother had nerves of steel, never raising her voice or appearing anxious as I side swiped cars on my first outing. My younger brother sat traumatized in the back seat. It was ten years before he would let me drive him again.

I cannot emulate my mother's calm demeanor. While instructing a new driver, I get toe cramps from pushing my foot against my imaginary brake pedal in the passenger side footwell. Once, after a driving session, I had such severe tooth pain I was sure I needed a couple of root canals. My dentist assured me there was absolutely nothing wrong with my teeth that unclenching them would not cure.

Teaching our teens to drive is nerve wracking because it reveals the aggressive side of drivers in our community. A few blocks from our home, our son hesitated a fraction of a second too long before making a right turn at a stop sign. The driver behind us was so enraged at the delay that he veered around our car into the bike lane and roared through the intersection. Driving at the 25 mile per hour speed limit on Middlefield Road is another nightmare. Other drivers tailgate, honk and gesture obscenities as they speed past.

Despite our inadequacies, our teenagers all learned to drive well, but we are hoping that those cars that drive themselves will be widely available before we need to undertake this task again. Better yet, a driverless car that also teaches our kids to drive!