Drivers’ Education for Whom?

Driver’s Education For Whom?

“Just wait until there is a break of four seconds between the cars before you pull out,” my 15-year-old son explains.  “That’s how you know that it is safe to turn out.”

I sigh.  This is the instruction number 25 for today alone.   I hate to squash his enthusiasm.  I love that he is learning.  I can’t argue with the logic.  I’m glad he is internalizing all this.

But is it too much to ask that I drive without help from the peanut gallery?  

“What position do you hold your hands at?”  I remember this one: his brother explained two years ago, during his summer driver’s ed course, that it was no longer what we were taught.  No more imagining 10 and 2 on the clock.  

“9 and 3!” I say confidently.  He smiles, acknowledging my small victory.

“And do you know why?”

No, honestly; I don’t know why.  I never really thought about why it was supposed to be 10 and 2 before, either, now that I think about it.  Something about more control, I believe I recall.  It was a long time ago when I took driver’s ed.  Driving is pretty automatic now, especially considering how many hours I lose hauling this one around to driver’s ed class, or his sister to camps and play dates, or all three of them off to far-flung lacrosse practices and tournaments.  

“Do you know why, Mom?” he persists.  “Why would it be 9 and 3?”  I tell him I give up; please, enlighten me.

“Because of the air bags,” he says patiently.  “That way your hand doesn’t come up and hit you in the face when they go off, if you are in an accident.”  

Interesting.  I ask him what else he has learned.  He pauses for a moment.  “Today, we talked about driving when you are tired.  It’s like driving after drinking.  Your response time goes way down.  We compared it to what happens when you are distracted.”

These are good things for these teenagers to know, I think to myself.  Kudos to the teacher.  I add in a comment of my own.  “Teenage boy’s intelligence level actually goes down when there is more than one boy in the car,” I say.  “With each additional boy, it goes down further.  Groups of teenage boys do not make smart driving decisions.”  

“Really?  I didn’t know that,” he says.  

“Actually, I don’t either,” I admit.  “It’s my belief.  Sure you don’t want to drive home?”

“No,” he says.  “That would mean I would have to think.”

“Good to hear you think while driving,” I reply.

We drive a bit further on our twelve minute journey across town, a route so ingrained in my brain that varying it throws me off.  He may be tired, but his back-seat driving (from the front passenger seat) doesn’t stop.

“Nice stop there, Mom.”  I give him a look. We are at the stop sign at the park, before going across the bridge.  This stop sign annoys me, and yes, I’ll admit that I don’t particularly worry about a complete, full stop… because there is no oncoming traffic. But, I do actually stop.  “No, really,” he continues.  “It was not a full stop, Mom.  You know how you know it is a full stop?   

He doesn’t even wait for my answer.  “You have to feel the tires stop rotating.  See?  Feel that?  What you’ve done before you go out onto the road, that was a complete stop.”  

“Good to know,” I answer briefly.  I decide not to share my thoughts about how dumb the other stop sign is.  No need to encourage him to think about not obeying every single rule, completely and totally.  He’ll figure that out way too soon anyway.

We drive a bit more.  “What’s your speed?”  I glance down, although I already know that I am not speeding.  “You ask me all the time.  It’s important, you say.  Don’t speed, Mom.  Not through here, that’s what you tell me, especially not near the school,” he needles me.  

“I’m not speeding,” I reply calmly. I remind myself that it is good that he has been listening.  

We drive home.  He comments when other drivers don’t use turn signals… when someone goes by too fast… what position the bikers are in, and how much space we need to get by them safely… the condition of the dirt road and what that might mean, whether I might be going too fast…

His teacher had stopped us as I picked him up that morning.  “Are you the one who has been teaching him?”  I had nodded, noting that his father had done some as well, but most of the time, I was usually the one who was with him.  “Well, thanks,” he said.  “He’s doing well.  Makes my job easier when they already know what they are doing.”

I remind myself of that praise when I park in the garage, weary of the near constant noticing of every little detail of what has become such a commonplace task in my life.  

I count the time left: three months to go, just over 90 days of driving practice under our watchful eyes.  Then we start anew with the worry we are just learning to accept from the first one, as the second child will join the motorized movement.  

Good thing he’s paying attention, I decide as I turn off the car and follow him in the house.


Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools, at the high school and elementary school levels.  She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board.  She is also a member of the Study Committee for Act 46. Contact her at


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