To Drivers’ Ed Guy, with love
It’s a sunny Sunday morning, and we’re driving the McCarran Loop. Fifty miles per hour never felt this fast.
My daughter grips the wheel confidently. She’s smiling and singing an oldie she’s heard on her favorite radio station: “Feels like it’s the first time.”
She pushes on the gas to get up a hill. I gasp.
“Better hang on, Mom,” she says, brightly. “I hear the noises you’re making.”
Next month, another Nevada teen will be driving herself to school, work and soccer practice.
In case you hadn’t noticed, drivers’ education isn’t a priority in Nevada schools. This, despite the fact that driving seems a far more critical skill than learning to grasp the themes of Shakespeare or calculating the hypotenuse of a triangle.
Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teens. Suicide is a distant second (just over 10 percent).
During Sunday’s downpour, my 14-year-old was in a car accident. His friend’s older sister was driving the boys to the skate park at Mira Loma, when she braked on the slick road and skidded into the car in front of her. The car’s a wreck. The kids were all OK, thank God.
My children have lost friends in fatal car crashes.
The Significant Republican and I attended the same southern Wisconsin high school, where we learned to drive under the scrutiny of a full-time drivers’ ed guy, Mr. Frisch. Each semester, Mr. Frisch imparted the precepts of defensive driving to a new batch of novices.
Our education didn’t end, as it does in Nevada, after we’d worked our way through the textbook. Instead, we were off to “The Simulator,” a trailer parked near the football field. The Simulator had a dozen or so driving stations, each complete with gas pedal, brake, steering wheel, etc. We’d watch driving films and respond appropriately (or not) as high-tech 1980s technology tracked our every move.
Then we progressed to “The Range,” a section of school parking lot transformed into a driving range with cones, painted lines and traffic signs. Our instructor stood directing traffic while we lurched around behind the wheels of cars lent by local dealers.
Finally, we’d go “On the Road” with Mr. Frisch in a car sporting a brake on the passenger side. That’s when the mantras we’d memorized came alive: “Blinker, mirror, over the shoulder” (lane changes) and “Speed up, slow down or change lanes” (dealing with merging traffic).
My favorite Frischism was “Instincts stink”—a maxim that’s kept me alert in many a potential deathtrap.
When I hear friends talk about their kids mysteriously smashing car after car after car, I blame Nevada’s lack of commitment to drivers’ ed.
Our family’s low incidence of accidents I attribute to the indirect benefit of Mr. Frisch. My kids get a secondhand “instincts stink” speech and the “your first accident will probably happen in a parking lot so pay attention” warning. They endure endless driving sessions in empty parking lots.
After the makeshift “range” experience, we drive around residential Sparks for a few weeks, avoiding major thoroughfares. We progress to increasingly busy streets: Vista Boulevard, Prater Way and McCarran.
Teaching teens to drive doesn’t get any easier. Inexperienced drivers do weird and freaky things. Random lane changes. Inexplicable brakings. Oops, was that a stop sign? It’s no wonder I’m breathing hard and feeling nauseated.
“Mom, calm down,” my daughter tells me as she winds her way through the Caughlin Ranch area. “Stop yelling at me.”
“I’m not yelling at you!” I reply in a perfectly calm voice, thank you.
Anyone know where you can get a car with a passenger-side brake?