Dr. Gridlock over the years has shared the rigors of the driver's education of Grid-daughters Mary and Carrie, pointing out some of their difficulties as they learned. Grid-daughter Carrie is about to get her license now, and she has asked for her turn to express her thoughts about driver training.
During the last year, she and I have put in about 5,000 miles together, including a 2,000-mile trip to Florida to look at colleges. She has driven rain and shine, day and night, interstate and back roads. I feel comfortable that she's as ready to solo as can reasonably be expected. Here are some of her views about the process:
"The worst thing a parent can do is scream and tense up. It's terrifying for the teen driver. My dad is very calm, but my mom screams and grabs the shoulder belt. I'll slam on the brakes and say, What, what?' and she'll say: Oh, it's okay now. Go on.'
"I think my dad wants me to be a perfect driver, but I don't think there are any. He isn't. I'll come to a stop at a stop sign, and he'll say, I didn't feel the car rock back.' Yet when he does the same thing at the same stop sign, I'll say, You didn't come to a complete stop; the car didn't rock back,' and he'll say, Oh, it was there; it was just very slight.' I thought this was funny -- a little hypocritical.
"Also, I think he should use his turn signals more. He doesn't seem to use them much in parking lots, but I think he should.
"The hardest thing for me to learn at first was just staying in my lane. I began driving in a fairly wide car, so I couldn't tell where the right side of the car was. This caused me to run off the right side of the road. Then I got a smaller car, a Ford Escort, and I had no problems staying on the road.
"During my interstate experience, the scariest part was being trapped by trucks. On the left, the right, ahead and behind. Of course, when I look over to Daddy Gridlock for reassuring words, he is asleep. I guess in a way that was good because he won't always be in the car with me, but at the time, I was slightly panicked.
"The hardest thing to learn with interstate driving was getting on the freeway. I was getting on at about 45 mph, and everyone else was going 75 mph. The first time, I stopped on the right shoulder. We waited for about 10 minutes to merge, but people were zooming around me, and traffic was going too fast. Dad was coaching me, and the cars where flying past. I wanted to quit and get out of the car, but Dad asked what I would do if he wasn't there, so eventually I made it. I've been practicing since and feel better about merging now.
"Now I'm taking behind-the-wheel training, and I'm glad I had so much driving with my parents. I feel much more comfortable with the instructor. One of the girls in my car had only one trip with her mother. That's her total driving experience. The first thing she said was, Now where's the accelerator?'
"I don't think seven hours of behind-the-wheel instruction should be the only training a teenager gets. The instructors for some of my friends cut the lessons short and give out temporary licenses after just one lesson, instead of the required seven. Scary!
"Now I'm about to get my license. I'm ready. I've been driving on country roads, interstate highways and in heavy traffic. I'm comfortable driving now, where before I was quite nervous. I'll be glad to have the freedom to go out on my own.
"I'll leave with a few helpful suggestions for parents:
A Top 5 List of the Worst Things Parents Can Do to Their Teen Drivers:
5. Scream and tense up.
4. Say nothing, so the kid doesn't know if she's doing well or not.
3. Imply that they will never get a driver's license without years of study.
2. Put off talking about or doing driver training.
1. Fail to practice with their kids. Parent Under Pressure Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have a daughter who is learning to drive. She is 15 1/2 years old. She went to take her written test and failed on the first try. She is very determined to drive. She wants to practice with us, but I get nervous riding with her.
I am worried to let her drive. But many times she has said to me, "I have only three months to go."
How do I impose strict rules? She is a good student, but wants her independence. TOBY ZLOTNICKI Potomac
Teenagers are expert at picking a date at which they expect to be driving solo and letting you know what it is (very kind of them). Usually the date is the first day that they are eligible to have a driver's license. Their motto in discussing this with parents seems to be, "Tell -- don't ask."
Grid-daughter Carrie did this to me, dropping in such comments as, "By then, I'll have my license."
I had to remind her that it sounded as if she was preparing her Oscar speech before she wrote the screenplay.
I made it clear that she had to demonstrate driving proficiency, from the residential road to the interstate, and that when that was done, she could take behind-the-wheel training -- which is required to get a driver's license in Virginia and Maryland -- and get her license. The parental training took one year. (The trouble with letting teenagers take formal behind-the-wheel training first is that parents can find themselves under relentless pressure to let them get their licenses and drive on their own before they get any parental training.)
I suggest you ride with your daughter on neighborhood streets until you are comfortable, then step up to busier avenues. Collect your errands and let her drive you to them. Let her drive to and from school with you. If there are any friends or relatives you can think of visiting, let her drive.
Above all, let her know that you don't think six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction is enough to drive alone, that you, the parents, will do most of the training and that you will let her know when you think she is ready to get a license.
This all may seem draconian now, but it's short-lived. Their independence comes soon enough. Where's That Driving School? Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I read about the driver's instruction course that Michael W. Neal's teenage son got from the private Woodbridge Driving School (Dr. Gridlock, Feb. 12). I cannot find the address or phone number.
I realize you are not in the business of business advertisement, but I have a teen who desperately needs that kind of instruction. Can you help? FLORENCE L. BLAIR Washington
Yes. Dr. Gridlock is concerned about not promoting commercial interests, but when you get a letter so full of praise about a driver training school, my instinct is to provide the information, particularly because a letter of commendation for a private driving school is so rare around here.
The school has changed its name to Lampshire Associates Inc. Driving School of Dumfries, Prince William County, Va. The telephone number is 703-221-0222.
The classroom training consists of 36 sessions (50 minutes each). The road training consists of seven sessions of observation and seven sessions of behind-the-wheel. What I liked best is that they take each student to a seldom-used road and practice going off the pavement onto the shoulder and getting back on the road without overcorrecting. Also, each student gets interstate highway experience, including entries onto the freeway.
The cost is $240 for the whole package, or $155 for road training.
I'm glad you're looking for training, Ms. Blair, because the District requires no classroom or behind-the-wheel training to get a driver's license. New drivers need a lot more than "on-the-job" training. A Testimonial to Air Bags Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In the interest of fairness to air bags, and possibly the safety of one of your readers, I hope you will print the following:
Two short, female friends of mine were struck head on by a drunk driver on a blind curve in Ohio. Their car was totaled. They had to be cut out of it. Both air bags had opened. Both women were using their seat belts.
My friends each had sore necks and minor injuries to their legs and arms, but they were alive to tell about the accident.
Ms. Renee Domogauer, of College Park, (Dr. Gridlock, March 19) may think that she wants her air bag disconnected because she is short, but I suggest that she talk to some survivors, or the doctors who treat them, before she pulls the bag out.
The statistics are way over on the side of air bags for one reason: They save lives. By disconnecting the bag, Ms. Domogauer may be doing herself a disservice that she (or her family) will someday regret. JOYCE W. HOFFER Annapolis
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will grant permission to install an air bag on/off switch if, after adjusting the steering wheel, the seat back and the seat, you are driving or riding less than 10 inches from the air bag cover. Most of the power of a deploying air bag is expended in the first two or three inches, and there is some concern that people closer than 10 inches may be at risk of injury.
Dr. Gridlock hopes that every alternative will be tried before cutting off an air bag. As you say, Ms. Hoffer, they save lives. More Roads Aren't the Answer Dear Dr. Gridlock:
When is the public going to understand that more roads will only lead to more congestion, more sprawl and higher taxes?
It seems that the public, with some creative help from the Greater Washington Board of Trade and others, has been brainwashed into thinking that we can build our way out of congestion.
In fact, building more and wider roads only increases congestion, costs money and leads to lifeless suburbs on the fringe.
This so-called "new" growth on the fringes is sometimes not new; it is sometimes displaced from other parts of our metropolitan area. As we leave older areas for new ones, we are in effect cannibalizing our cities and inner suburbs by building new roads, schools and water and sewer facilities on the fringe when such infrastructure already exists in the core.
The result of this wasteful pattern of growth is a combination of high taxes and declining levels of public services, not to mention a transportation system that is almost solely dependent on the private automobile (read congestion).
Building new roads on the fringe of Metro areas will have the opposite effect from what the Board of Trade says (Dr. Gridlock, March 12). Over time, such new roads will increase traffic and congestion, hurt the region's economy, and reduce the attractiveness of the Washington area to outside business.
It is true that no one wants to spend their life sitting in traffic, but building more roads is not the answer. City after city across the country has tried this for the last 50 years, and it has not worked. Traffic congestion continues to get worse.
Our transportation goal should be to increase transportation options such as transit, walking and biking. This can be done by coupling very selective investment in new road capacity with increased support for transit and channeling growth to places within the existing Metro region with good transit access. MATT RAIMI Natural Resources Defense Council Washington Officers or Neutral Observers? Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I travel on the Fairfax County Parkway frequently. When traffic is backed up, it is usually the result of an accident.
The last three times I have passed accidents on the parkway, Fairfax County police were on site, but appeared to be standing around waiting for something to happen.
No attempt was made to direct traffic around the accidents or do anything else that would reduce the traffic backup.
Are Fairfax County police no longer in the traffic-directing business? ROBERT F. ARMSTRONG Springfield
They are supposed to be. Addressing traffic congestion at an accident site is a high priority among all our police departments. Next time you pass such a scene, note a cruiser number, if you can, and certainly the time, date and place, and Dr. Gridlock will check to see what was so pressing that police at the scene couldn't lend a hand to clear up the gridlock.
Dr. Gridlock appears in this section each Thursday to explore transportation matters. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include full name, address and day and evening phone numbers. Please do not send letters you do not wish published.