Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have followed your column for years, and though I have had strong opinions about many topics, the driving school situation has prompted my first letter.
Hours of "classroom lessons" seem to bore our teenagers. I sent my new driver out for the first two of her six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. I got back a form neatly checked off that she was doing okay, and she announced she had driven to D.C. from Montgomery County.
So I happily got into the car with her to see how well she was driving, and she could not get out of the driveway and down the street.
After the second "lesson," I got a verbal reprimand from the "instructor," who said that it was not his job to teach her how to drive (silly me) but that once I had taught her to navigate the streets safely he would teach her to parallel park and pass her test.
It appears that a "two-hour driving lesson" means getting in the car and to the next student and back within two hours' time.
I have gone from letting her drive in an empty parking lot to one with a few cars and to streets with little traffic, and one day hope to get her ready for her final "driving lesson" from the school.
Each time I venture out, I wish we had a student driver sign to display to warn the other motorists to watch out for us. There are places where new and learning drivers must have such signs in the back window to warn others to be more aware and patient. I would feel a lot safer knowing others knew to be more careful. An added benefit to a displayed sign: It would be a good way to curb curfew violators.
Good luck in trying to improve the driving school situation. This really could be a life-and-death matter.
You're so right. Teaching driver education is one of the most important things parents can do for their children. It can be life or death.
That is why I dismiss these driving schools. They are not going to teach anyone to drive in six hours of behind-the-wheel training. The real work will have to be done by the parents, putting their charges into every conceivable situation until the parents feel confident the teenagers are ready to drive solo.
I recommend at least 1,000 miles of interstate highway driving and 1,000 miles of city/suburban driving in our area. That can take one to two years and probably means the student is not going to get a license on his or her 16th birthday. So much the better.
New drivers need extensive training in merging, Beltway driving and what to do in a traffic circle. They also must learn how to use the mirrors, turn right or left into the correct lane, and pass a slow-moving vehicle on a two-lane road. Then there is how to correct properly when the right tires go off the roadway; overcorrecting and losing control is a leading cause of teenage driving deaths.
Teenagers need to experience driving in the rain, at night and on snowy and icy roads. They need to know what to do about tailgaters, horn honkers or light flashers behind them. And what to do when an animal jumps in front of the vehicle or an insect appears inside. A teenage driver swatting at a bee veered into a head-on collision recently in Silver Spring.
My first daughter stampeded me into allowing her to get her license at age 161/2, without going through all of the above. That was a mistake. I took my time with my second daughter, and she got her license at 171/2, after extensive training, to the point that she was pointing out my driving mistakes.
It sounds like you are tuned in to the situation, Ms. Atlshul. You are asking the right questions. My advice to parents is to provide the training themselves. Don't rely on a school, and don't allow a license until you are comfortable your children are ready.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In your April 25 column, you asked about a good driving school.
I am 15 and just finished taking driver's education from the Allegany Driving School, which offers classes in Frederick and Montgomery counties. The class was held within walking distance of my high school and seemed to fulfill the state requirements.
We did not waste classroom time by starting late or ending early. We were in the classroom for three hours, twice a week, for five weeks. The content of the class was basic, but it was thorough enough to allow us to pass the final written state exam.
On the scheduled driving day, the instructor would meet the student at the high school with the driving school's car.
If the student could not schedule a time for driving during the five weeks, the instructor would let him or her schedule driving after the whole course had ended and a new session had begun.
The instructor made sure that everyone went driving with him for the required six hours and passed the driving portion of the class.
For a class that cost my parents $280, it was not bad. Some days the classroom lesson was boring, but the driving portion was practical and included a variety of situations, from rural roads to highways and the narrow one-way streets of downtown Frederick.
Overall, I learned the basics of driving during the course. Now, my parents will continue to be the primary teachers.
To add to your list of things that need to be practiced, I suggest: busy traffic circles, Bay Bridge toll booths, crossing the Bay Bridge and crossing narrow, single-lane covered bridges.
Stuck Behind Repairs
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
On Saturday, May 1, about 3 p.m., there was a large backup on westbound Route 50 from Bowie to about two miles before the Beltway.
Only one lane was open at the head of the backup. Radio traffic reports advised that there was an accident. I did not see disabled cars or an accident, but there appeared to be construction in one or two of the three lanes that were closed.
There were a few workmen -- about three -- and only a truck or two. My impression was that a minimal crew was at work on a limited task and that only two lanes were being worked on.
Will this work and lane closure also be done on weekdays, and, if so, for how much longer? What was the real cause of the lane closures?
Irvin A. Lavine
The Maryland State Highway Administration is doing some weekend pothole patching on westbound Route 50 between Route 301 and the Beltway. It sounds like you got caught.
The state closes one or two lanes for the work but tries to keep two lanes open.
Work will continue to the end of June on the westbound lanes, on weekends only. Potholes in the eastbound lanes have been filled.
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.