The View from the Passenger’s Seat

My son starts Driver’s Education next month, making this my third time through this process. My first two experiences were with my daughters, but this time I will be sitting alongside a kid who grew up playing Super Mario Kart. For those of you who have not parented this stage yet, let me explain what you have to look forward to.

The first time behind the wheel, most kids are too busy figuring out the mechanicals of the car to frighten you too much. Thankfully, all my kids were well-versed in setting up the radio presets, how to move the six-way seats and how to set the temperature controls to their liking.  

New drivers usually start out in their own subdivisions or a local empty parking lot. They awkwardly transition from the gas to brake pedal, make super wide or curb-riding close turns and try to apply their Driver’s Ed classroom lessons in real time. The speed of traffic is usually less than 25 mph so it’s easy for both the student driver and the parent to adjust to.

As your child progresses through their classroom work, they begin to realize that their parents might bend the rules of the road a little and often comment when you are driving. “Mom, you are supposed to stop at the line completely and then move up to the corner before making a right turn.” From that moment on, your driving skills are constantly critiqued and it’s better to just let them drive.

Unfortunately, that means your student driver may need to start running errands with you. Once my kids were old enough to stay home alone, errands had become my quiet retreat time to listen to my music and go at my own pace, complaint free. Now you will be at the mercy of a teenage Uber driver whose sense of direction is questionable.

To make sure my daughter knew her way around town, I asked questions like, “Do you go north or south on Route 59?” She replied back, “Mom, no one talks like that. It’s just left or right.” I guess in their life experience no one does talk like that. These are kids raised with GPS and have never had to read an actual map.

While you may feel the safest driving with a teen driver on bright, sunny days, that doesn’t give them much variety for driving conditions. Hold onto the passenger seat, Mom and Dad. You will be riding shotgun in the dark, rain and snow. Did you ever wonder what those handles were for on the interior ceiling of the car? Now you know.

Night driving with a student driver is not for the faint of heart or those who like nicely manicured nails. I spent the required 10 hours of night driving digging my nails into the dashboard while trying to remain casual about it. “Mom, you don’t have to hold onto the dashboard,” my daughter said to me. “I’m not holding on. I am just trying to figure out which color I want to get on my nails this week.” Parenting is filled with white lies.

Driving in the snow with a student driver is a special kind of scary. A heavy right foot and an overconfident turn can spin your car out into traffic faster than new drivers can react. It’s better than any thrill ride Six Flags has to offer! The funny thing is that I am not a thrill ride seeker. I am more a sit-on-the-bench and hold-everyone’s-stuff kind of person.

When it is your turn to drive for the carpool for your student driver, I don’t suggest letting him behind the wheel while his friends are piled up in the back. Pictures of him from the back seat will eventually wind up on his friends’ Snapchat story with the caption “Fearing for my life!”

Before you know it, the big day will come. Despite your fears and doubts, your child will be ready to take his driver’s test. After gathering all your paperwork, you get in the long line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. You can always tell who are the new drivers at the DMV. They are the only ones happy to be there.

An instructor with the same demeanor as Roz from Monsters, Inc. will take them out to your car and onto the driving course. Your child comes back with a smile worthy of an orthodontic model, giving you a “thumbs up”. They passed. For a moment, you are relieved. You can check off another milestone and smile along with them. That is until they ask to borrow the car for their first solo trip. 

Pam Molnar
About Pam Molnar

Pam Molnar is a small business owner. She has launched several successful businesses while staying home with her three children.

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