Learning to drive is never a mundane experience. We all can remember the anxious feeling racing through our chest the first time we turned the key in the ignition. Placing a teenager behind the wheel with a developing brain and a penchant for impulsive behavior is enough to make even the surest of men squirm.
I still remember my second time out practicing with my permit. It was a beautiful Sunday, so Dad and I took the Camry out for a spin. We were having a pleasant time, until I realized he had directed me onto the interstate ramp. What faith he must have had. I swallowed, and then accelerated to gain momentum for merging onto I-64. As I turned my head to my left, my right hand holding the steering wheel inadvertently followed suite, hastily merging us faster than intended. Thankfully, my Dad was there to pull the wheel back and correct the trajectory.
Teenagers are extremely smart, they’re just inexperienced. Unfortunately, experience is the one skill-set that you’re unable to teach. Driving takes immense concentration and anticipation. Both of these variables are difficult for a teenager to master, especially as the number of distractions continue to climb.
When I was learning to drive, I didn’t own a cellphone. People had them, but their capabilities were limited to strictly primal features, such as making and receiving calls. I now see constant texting in the cars next to me, by both young and old drivers. I observe professionals reading emails on their phones as they putter down the road. Distractions have multiplied exponentially in the last 20 years. Growing up, the worst I saw was a newspaper strewn across the steering column as someone absorbed the daily news during their commute.
Often times, I find it truly amazing that there aren’t more accidents on the road. Traffic laws and procedures help in offering guidelines, but when people get behind the wheel, they tend to only obey them when it’s convenient. Whether it’s rolling through a stop sign, speeding, or tailgating, at the heart of these violations is everyone’s safety. Personal safety should be the number one priority for all drivers, especially teenagers.
When young people get behind the wheel, their minds go to one thing—independence. They finally have the ability to make decisions. Unfortunately, the responsibility that accompanies this monumental freedom can be lost. Whether it’s turning up a favorite song, trying to figure out Bluetooth, or checking themselves out in the mirror, these otherwise safe tasks can become extremely dangerous for a teenager.
There really is no other way to explain it than to say,“The only thing you should do in a car is drive.”
That sounds too simple and contrite, but it hits at the heart of why driving is so dangerous. Inexperienced drivers treat driving as a social activity, rather than an exercise of concentration.
My admiration goes out to those who have the patience to teach driver education. Society, as well as nervous parents, need these dedicated individuals who spend time with new drivers, offering road time and insight into safe practices. Making 16-year-old drivers hold onto their learner’s permit for six months is a step in the right direction in helping teenagers get the practice and experience they need. Establishing good habits and building up confidence in driving a vehicle goes a long way in preventing unnecessary accidents.
Every day there are new drivers hitting the road. They’ll merge into traffic with the rest of us, and we’ll all have to make it work. An absolute truth that we all live by is that one must live and learn, as this is the only way experience is accumulated. Although it can sometimes be a steep learning curve, young drivers will figure it out, just like generations before them.