Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teenage Driver

I understand the hidden nuances about teenage driving contained in rock and roll. Many lyrics like “Dead Man’s Curve is No Place to Play!” and “Hot Rod Lincoln” describe plot lines that did not end positively. They must have been written by adults who were worried about young drivers; and these songs like all the music of my generation left powerful images within my psyche. When I was young, my parents wanted me to see these reckless picture stories and thought they might keep me safe. I convey this same important safety message to my students as a trained driver’s education instructor, but I am not the first adult to use the do as I say not as I do line.

Even my states driver’s examination is a farce. Two hands on the wheel, check your mirrors, accelerate slowly, keep the radio off, pay attention, don’t speed, and stop completely are the things one needs to consider around that silly little simulated course. Yes, in my state the learners do not even have to drive in traffic, just a few streets behind the driver exam station. No one really drives like that, and I would like to see a real-life test. I want to see the drivers test where you have the seat leaned too far back to reach the brake pedal quickly, one arm around your favorite person, texting on the phone in one hand, a BK Whopper in the other hand, music blaring at 80 decibels, a soft drink and your favorite person’s hand between your thighs, your going twenty over the limit, and you are forced to steer with your knees. Those of you are now thinking I could pass that funny test are the very ones who drive as badly as I. I know many drivers could pass this test as I have seen adults in this formation all around town.

I have recently had the goal to drive better, like my father does. I wanted to make my parents proud of my driving sensibilities; however, it has not worked out! I wanted to silence my protective mother who thinks I still drive like a teenager. My daddy continually tells me to drive safely, and to stop imitating Big Daddy Don Garlits, a personal hero and drag racing superstar, at every intersection. My mother just wants me to drive my age.

My father will not drive over the speed limit, and my mother will not allow him to do so peacefully. His normal cautious three miles under the limit would be commendable in many driving situations. The police might even pull him over to get one of those “Good Driver Tickets”. I have heard the police write them, but not-surprisingly, have never seen one! The problem starts when my dad is on Interstate 240 circling Memphis at fifty-two miles per hour when the average speed of the other cars and large trucks is seventy-three miles per hour. He then becomes the traffic hazard everyone needs to avoid. No wonder those drivers that get trapped behind him are extremely demonstrative towards him as they finally beg someone to allow them into the left lanes. Many drivers yell, honk, curse, and sometimes give him the type of salute he never saw in his thirty-three years in the Navy. You might also become enraged, especially when you are trapped behind my dad going fifty-two miles per hour and you glance in your rearview mirror. That is where you will see the eighteen-wheeler that is way too close and traveling twenty miles per hour faster than your back bumper is going.

My parents’s van has been hit in the rear twice lately. He was stopped at stop signs when these events occurred. The people behind him have perfected the California Roll just like I have. This maneuver allows someone to slide through a stop sign by tapping the brakes lightly and slowing to a safe coasting speed, like twelve m.p.h. Try this well-accepted driving technique at most intersections and there will be no problems. Try it in front of a police car and your wallet will suffer a negative reinforcement. If you do it behind a driver like my father; you better be prepared to share your insurance information with your new-found friend. His wheels actually stop moving for several seconds. Just like the school busses with the railroad crossing sticker, the state of Tennessee should be making him wear a bumper sticker that states that he completely stops at all stop signs. He never cut other cars off. If you drive with dad and come to a four-way stop, you will be there for sometime, he is always polite enough to allow several other drivers to go ahead. His use of the accelerator is slow and constant. He claims it is better on the gas mileage, tires, and it is much safer. I have never seen him pretend to be a drag racer.

Unlike my father, I try not to confuse the other drivers by stopping completely at intersections. I also don’t spend much time trying to figure out whose turn it is to proceed, when there is doubt I step on the accelerator. You should do this also unless you want to lose your turn and have to wait forever. Those few individuals who are fast enough to pass me on the highway are not irritated. If they have road rage it is never my fault. I have never been in an accident when I was traveling high above the speed limit. There have been a few wrecks close behind me, but I am not sure they were all my fault.

Recently, I had my first intersection collision. I was in the right lane beside an eighteen-wheel-tanker in the left lane. I would have been ok if I had sped through the yellow or even run that red light, which would not have been a virginal occurance. I am sorry to say that I stopped. I also would have been safer if I had gunned that green light like it was a Christmas tree at the Summer Nationals. Instead I stopped fully and I accelerated slowly, the proper way according to my normally wise father. That is exactly what put me in danger. The other driver remembered one thing and forgot several things at the same instant. He remembered he should have been turning right onto the other highway. He forgot he was in the left lane. He forgot to check his mirrors to notice my shinny red car beside him. He forgot to inform me of his pending right turn with a directional signal. As he made the right turn from the left lane I was in the path of his huge back wheels. I could see the clearly printed notice of the side of his truck that stated his capacity as 9000 gallons, and I had an extremely close view of the hazardous symbol with 1224. (Which I later looked up to determine that is stood for regular grade gasoline). If I had not shoved the transmission into reverse quickly, I might have found out how much of a dent a large truck can on the top of my car roof, or I could have found out how quick burning BP gasoline really was. I almost went up in my own flaming explosion which is only funny if you are Wiley Coyote. Because I drive a small fast car and the tanker had much more mass, the driver never knew he had hit me. He probably just thought he went over the curb wrong. After my panic settled, I got out to discover a small, but quite expensive, amount of damage to my front driver’s side wheel well where the truck tire hit my vehicle. I needed an new fender and a wheel alignment. That’s what I get for driving like an adult.

I had one terrible wreck a few years back. A drunk teenager drove his truck into the side of my car as he was sneaking home avoiding the police at four a.m. The accident report states that he was traveling near one hundred as he shot across the by-pass where I was traveling fifty-seven in a sixty-five. I don’t know why I was not cruising in my usual gait of seventy-five to eighty. If I had been going above the speed limit I would have been several miles down the road before that truck crossed the by-pass. Instead, I was driving in a manner that would make my parents proud. That is the reason I got my first ride in a speeding ambulance that morning on my way to the hospital. What did driving safely like my father wanted do for me? What did I earn trying to drive like an adult? – A massive concussion, knee surgery, a tremendous hospital bill and three months in rehab. Thanks Dad! I have discovered there might be advantages to driving what my daddy would term unlawful, foolish, reckless, or even unsafe. I seem to be better off driving worse than my father and mother. Even though I am way beyond fifty, I will continue to drive like a teenager. I find it much safer!

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