Dear Dr. Gridlock:
My 15-year, six-month, 27-day-old son is counting the days before he can legally take to the roads.
With the recent spate of teen auto accidents, I would appreciate your recommendation of driving schools in the area. His mom and I would be deeply grateful.
This is a dangerous time in your child's life, and you are wise to approach with caution. I do not know of any school that will provide your son with the kind of comprehensive training he will need to operate a vehicle safely at age 16.
Oh, there are schools that, for a few hundred dollars, will give him cursory training and the accompanying certificate to present to the state to get a driver's license. But will he be ready for solo driving, where, as an inexperienced and poorly trained new driver, he may run into dangerous situations? Possibly with thrill-seeking friends?
It's not a coincidence that automobile crashes are the leading cause of teenage deaths. If you want to note how many 16-year-old drivers are killed, read The Post's Metro section, where these tragedies are reported.
I see from your letter, Mr. Mackel, that the clock is ticking. . . . . Somewhere, teenagers have developed the idea that it is their God-given right to drive by themselves when they reach age 16, regardless of their training. I know, their friends all get licenses. But who is the parent in this decision-making process?
My recommendation would be to push back the date of the driver's license to gain driver training and behind-the-wheel experience.
And then the parents should supply the training in ways subcontractors can't provide.
I suggest 1,000 miles of local driving and 1,000 miles of interstate driving, at a minimum.
The parents should coach their child on:
* How to merge, park, obey speed limits, drive in the city and drive on two-lane country roads. What to do if someone is tailgating; the proper space between vehicles; what HOV lanes mean; how to read a map (with exercises).
* How to pass a slow-moving car on a two-lane road without a head-on collision. What to do when your car drifts off the road and there is no shoulder (overcorrecting and rollovers are a leading cause of teen driver deaths).
* How to get off the Capital Beltway at a left exit. How to get onto the Beltway from a left entrance. How to merge onto interstate traffic from a dead stop. How to turn into the corresponding lanes at intersections. How not to block those intersections.
* What to do in constructions zones or when an animal suddenly jumps in front of the vehicle. How to look out for deer along forested roads, especially during the winter mating season.
* How to drive at night.
You need to coach them through as many weather seasons as possible, driving in snow, ice and cloudbursts. Explain hydroplaning.
Are any of these subjects ones you would like your child to first experience on their own, at age 16?
Can there be any more important duty for a parent than one that may save the child's life?
I handled my two children -- first the wrong way, and then the right way. I allowed my oldest daughter to stampede me into getting a license at age 161/2, without enough training (but we hope for the best, don't we?).
Seeing that the result was, shall we say, less than perfect, I entered into the comprehensive training described above with my second daughter.
The training went on for a year and a half, and it went so well that in the end she was coaching me. She got her license at age 171/2. I've never had a worry about her driving, and someday, I hope she'll pass on to her children this kind of parental involvement in driver education.
I'm interested in your responses and experiences with driver training.
Online Chat Monday
Dr. Gridlock will host an online chat Monday from 1 to 2 p.m. to field your comments and questions about our transportation system. Log on to www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mails at or faxes at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.