I loved driver’s ed movies. I was taking the driver’s training summer class in 1980, back when it was offered free to students–in the days before pay-to-play sports, buy-your-own-textbook, and we-can’t-afford-hall-guards. My mom had held me back a year in kindergarten before “young fives” was a term. I think it was just called, “slow-kid.” She caught hell in the neighborhood for traumatizing her child–“He’ll be the oldest one in his class.”
Finally, there was an advantage–I’d be driving before everyone else. ”Kevin, want to go to the movies with us?” I knew and didn’t care that I was being used as a chauffeur.
The driver’s education films that we were shown on the clickety-click 16mm projectors were gruesome and designed to scare us straight. All kinds of 1958-1964 car accidents that have been shown since James Dean and Natalie Wood’s climactic ending in “Rebel Without a Cause.” Maybe that film caused more accidents and more driver’s ed films?
But my favorite films were the “What-if” films–the ball bouncing out between parked cars followed by gaggle of five year-olds or the snowy road with the snake-like turns. And no one ever mastered parallel parking from the films, no matter how many geometrical diagrams they used to break it down. Finally, there’s a button that does that for us in the newer cars. (I’m still waiting for the button that can make a bed or clean the basement.)
Both of my kids have their permits, the oldest one takes his road-test this Friday and we’ll see how that goes. He’s doing pretty well, following the traumatized mailbox and post incident in the upper peninsula. ”Dad, they said in driver’s ed that these things happen!” I’m not sure if a sharp right turn into a ditch qualifies as an act of god or not.
I would say that 70% of my driver’s training instruction, however, dealt with the dangers of alcohol. I learned more about how many shots, wine glasses or cans of beer gets you to the magic .10%, free ticket to jail, than I did about the three point turn. I learned the difference between intoxicated and impaired. Obviously it’s still an issue, but the dangers of a case of beer in the back seat as you pretend to be the Bandit eluding Buford T. Justice is nothing compared to the 5″ weapon in all of our hands–the ill-titled “smartphone.”
This year’s Michigan Student Film and Video Festival featured a large number of public service announcements warning students not to text and drive–completely replacing the usual drunk-kid-getting-keys-taken assortment. And i can imagine that it’s very difficult for a state trooper to tell a drunk from a texter.
If my son passes the test on Friday, I’m probably going to go through the same anxiety that plagued my father as he repeatedly pushed down on the non-existent brake in our car’s passenger seat. I heard him suck in his breath and try to act like he wasn’t thinking of popping open the door and rolling out to save himself.
But I’m less worried about my son and daughter’s driving, mailboxes aside, than I am about the following new behaviors:
- Boat Pulling Into Dock: The real wide turn as someone uses one hand on the wheel so his other can keep the latest sports at eye level.
- The Wait-and-Hurry-up as they don’t notice the light is green for a moment then gun the motor to make up the difference.
- The Weave. As a bicyclist I see the slow drift in my little helmet mirror as the gravel starts flying then the car whips back in the other direction and nearly clocks someone in the next lane.
I guess there’s a certain amount of faith that you have to put in your kids’ driving and I need to trust that he’s going to keep his eyes on all of the above. But I’m not sure that my dad ever did truly relax with me behind the wheel, either–even up until I was thirty-three!
Sometimes you’re better off just inhaling, closing your eyes and saying a little prayer.