Driver's Seat: A primer on teaching teens to drive

Posted: September 14, 2011

No experience can quite compare to teaching your teenager how to drive.

Apprehension. Fear. Exasperation.

Now triple that. I've just been through three in less than two years.

Yes, friends, Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 3.0 are all now licensed drivers, a project that began in December 2009 and wrapped up in August, and I have the gray hairs and worry lines - and insurance bills - to prove it.

It wasn't easy for Mr. Driver's Seat to spend so much time as Mr. Passenger Seat. But if you find yourself in a similar situation, some new technology and old-fashioned advice may help steer you in the right direction.

Watching from afar: As usual, Mrs. Passenger Seat and I miss all the good parenting toys. We get finished with driver training for three out of four kids, and some new technological help is unveiled.

General Motors' OnStar communications division is now testing a new feature called Family Link with 10,000 of its six million subscribers.

Right now, Phase One testing provides only vehicle location and text and e-mail alerts with that information, so customers can receive messages when a vehicle has arrived at a predetermined destination.

Phase Two will give parents even more of an upper hand: Speed alerts, arrival and departure alerts, and boundary alerts will be tested some time next month and should be available early next year, according to Vijay Iyer, OnStar's vice president for communications.

So parents will know whether young Dylan has ventured beyond a certain area, or if Reagan left her BFF's house when she said, or how fast Madison gets the Chevy up to 60 miles per hour - and beyond.

Other help: Remember, technology alone is no substitute for education and common sense. The right book and perhaps even a driving school might be for you.

An editor friend at the New York Times listened to my tale of impending driver instruction a couple of years ago and recommended Crashproof Your Kids by Timothy C. Smith. Smith is a certified driving instructor, a graduate of the Skip Barber School of Racing and of the National Safety Council's Defensive Driving Course, and a licensed Sports Car Club of America racer.

The book offers the usual harrowing tales but also some good driving techniques that even old guys like me can benefit from reviewing. You can check it out yourself at www.crashproofyourkids.com.

Know the rules: Yeah, yeah, you've been driving for 25 years. But there may be some details you've forgotten that the driving testers did not.

Mr. 2.0 failed his first test in part because I wasn't aware of the rules about where to stop at stop signs. I knew you were supposed to stop at the white line, of course. But what if there's no line painted on the road? You stop exactly even with the sign, then creep forward until you can see.

Oops. Sorry, kid.

Correct answer: Stop before the stop sign and out of the way of where pedestrians would cross.

Fortunately, this was my only flub. At least the only one pointed out to me by the nice testing professionals in Frazer.

Everyone moves at his or her own pace: Ms. 1.0 was not the first Sturgis Kid to be licensed. Mr. 2.0 could not wait to get behind the wheel.

Of course, having my first-born uninterested in driving made me feel like an unfit father because I got my license at 16 years and one month. I mean, come on, kid. Driving? What's better than driving?

But this is not unusual these days. More teens are delaying getting their learner's permits. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, lawmakers have also aimed to put the brakes on teen driving. Graduated-driver's-license programs restrict the times 16- and 17-year-olds can drive, and limit the number of passengers in the vehicle.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's website touts even fewer teen drivers as a result of this licensing. A total of 153,984 teens were licensed in 1999, compared with 99,001 in 2010.

Most things we worry about never happen: Eventually, you get through preparing your children to drive. Sturgis Kid 3.0 turns 17 today (Happy birthday!), and so there's still some road to travel for us. Young 4.0 turns 16 in five years, so we get a breather, if not a complete rest.

Usually, I'm counting my blessings because 1.0 and 2.0 are in D.C., safely away from the Sturgis Stable of Fine Cars. This week, though, busy schedules made it more convenient to send them off with a vehicle than to take them to the train.

Here's hoping this week's D.C. adventure doesn't warrant a future column.


Contact staff writer Scott Sturgis at 215-854-2558 or ssturgis@phillynews.com.

 

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