She pulled alongside me at a red light on Rockville Pike. When the light turned green, she roared away, unsmoothly, much too fast. She wavered slightly in her lane. She was an accident trying to happen.
She was about 16 years old.
Once upon a time, that young driver would have learned to drive at school. Driver's education programs were as much a part of the high school scene as English or math.
But budget cuts have done to driver's ed what termites do to wood. Prince George's County is the only jurisdiction in the Washington area to offer both the in-class and in-car components of driver's ed in public high schools. Some school systems offer just the in-class piece of driver's ed. Most offer neither.
This has been excellent news for the 35 or so driver training schools in the area, which charge hundreds of dollars to teach children what they used to learn for nothing. Has it been excellent news for those of us who ply the highways? Your insurance bill holds the answer.
If you have a teenage driver in your house, your insurance bill is unbelievably higher than it would be if you didn't. For boys, the teenage surcharge is beyond unbelievable, all the way to calamitous.
Do you think this is accidental? It's actuarial. Teenagers are involved in nearly half of all car accidents. Boys are involved in about three times as many as girls.
Could it be that teenagers haven't learned to drive as well as they once did? That's not so clear, because teenagers caused nearly as large a percentage of accidents 50 years ago, according to statistics supplied by the insurance industry. Still, I suspect that driver's ed would help teach the right habits at the right age and stage.
For one thing, driver's ed in schools would bring social pressure to bear in the right way. If you flunk the safety part of an in-school driver's ed curriculum, it'll be all over the halls in about three seconds. So maybe you'll focus a little harder at the time of the lesson, and mow down fewer light poles later.
For another thing, it's silly to offer some life skills courses in school (health, home economics) without offering driver's ed, too.
For a third thing, the training that children receive in some commercial driving schools would be funny if it weren't so sad.
When our daughter took a commercial class, one evening session consisted entirely of watching action movies. Whenever there was a Hollywoodized car chase, the teacher would say: "Now, don't drive like that." Thanks a lot, pal.
For a fourth thing, driver's ed at school casts the course in the same serious light as any regular academic offering. If you don't concentrate, the principal will hear about it, and you might get in trouble.
Nothing of the sort happens at commercial schools, which flunk virtually no one, even consistent screw-ups and cut-ups. Meanwhile, these schools keep raking it in because Maryland and Virginia teenagers can't get licenses without driver's ed certificates.
Is it possible that driver's ed at school will make a comeback? Spokesmen for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles say there is much talk about this, but no prospect of immediate action. In the District of Columbia, School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman continues to study the possibility, according to spokeswoman Denise Tamm.
And 16-year-olds continue to jackrabbit away from red lights, unsmoothly, much too fast.
We're two months past the error, but thanks to Linda R. Christenson, of Arlington, it has been worth the wait.
Linda hopped on a mistake I made in my May 25 column. In it, I used the word "cohabitate." As Linda observes (and Levey always knew, if he had stopped to think about it), the word is "cohabit."
She tweaked me with a limerick. It's so cute that I thought you might like a little tweak, too.
If your usage I were to imitate
I would have to start using "co-habitate,"
Adding syllables like rabbits
But the word is "co-habits."
At least Webster finds that legitimate.
A KID TO CAMP
Just one week left in our annual drive. Hundreds of underprivileged kids are hope-hope-hoping that there will be enough money in the till to send them to camp this summer. Won't you help assure that there is? Many thanks.
Our goal by July 30: $550,000.
In hand as of July 19: $271,696.22.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.