THE BLOG
09/30/2014 05:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Teenage Driver Tips

My oldest twin was getting long-distance night-driving experience in preparation for transitioning from permit to driver's license.

We were going to their grandparents' house, hundreds of miles away from home, in the 10 year old blue Oldsmobile "tank" that other cars would bounce off of if they hit us.

2014-09-29-DrewandEricfirstcar.jpg

Photo Credit: Drew Reardon

We were on a two-lane highway and it was night time.

I am in the passenger seat, white-knuckled, scanning for problems (I love to drive and be in control, so this was a massive sacrifice for me!).

I spot an empty refrigerator box up ahead in the opposite lane.

No problem, it is over there; I won't even mention it.

Suddenly a car in the opposite lane hits the box and I see it go airborne, end over end, with a trajectory to land directly in front of us.

My son is looking straight ahead and still doesn't see it.

On-coming cars are to our left, a sheer drop-off is to our right, if my son swerves either way, we are toast!

...

I first learned to drive in a straight-shift pickup truck in a plowed field. I went around that field several times, never getting out of first gear.

My formal training was conducted by a sergeant on the local police force; he first took me to the city graveyard to observe my skill at turns, then to areas where there was little traffic.

Each lesson increased in difficulty.

I have a vivid memory of when we were driving in downtown traffic and he said, "get in the right lane."

I immediately switched lanes -- he broke out in a cold sweat and went ballistic!

"Did you look to see if the lane was clear?!!!"

"No," I answered. "You said to get in the right lane, so that is what I did."

After he calmed down, he said, "Next time, check to see if the lane is clear before moving over."

Years later when I was teaching my twin boys how to drive I remembered the lane-changing incident (and many others) when I taught my sons how to drive; I told them, "When it is safe to do so, move over to the right lane."

In much of my instruction I used The Karate Kid method of instruction: Walk on left side of road, safe; walk on right side of road, safe; walk in middle of road, squished like a grape.

  1. At a stop sign, look right, look left, look right again before proceeding (this has saved my bacon several times, as it has them).
  2. Keep your eyes on the road when you turn the radio on/off or change the channel; the radio is not moving. If you look at the radio you will automatically drift to the right (this applies to looking at your girlfriend also).
  3. Before changing lanes, check your mirrors, then check your blind spot; cars love to hide there.
  4. If you are in another car's blind spot, either speed up or slow down so the driver can see you (otherwise this is an accident waiting to happen).
  5. If changing lanes on the interstate, look two lanes over to see if another vehicle is going for the same spot as you (this saved my butt today).

In other words, tell a learning driver exactly, and completely, what to do. Explain the benefits of the correct action and consequences of otherwise. Avoid telling them what not to do, and assume nothing!

In a panic situation, only say what to do!

...

Just as the refrigerator box landed in front of our car I shouted: "DRIVE STRAIGHT!!!"

My son locked his hands on the steering wheel and we pushed that box down the highway.

Disaster averted!

After a few seconds of having the box in front of our car he asked me, "now what?"

"Look for an empty parking lot, pull over and stop the car, and then back off the box," which we did and proceeded on to our destination, without any further heart-stopping events.

Today, both of my sons enjoy driving as much as I do and I have a feeling of peace that they are behind the wheel driving with their children.