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Entries in driving (2)


Alcohol, Driving and Kids

I keep a list of topics to cover in this blog, adding to the list whenever something comes up. When I get ready to write, I grab a concept and think about it for days. Time doesn’t permit me to JUST think….I think as I go about my regular routine….and come up with a “flow.”

My topic was completely different until I got my hair cut this morning. My long term stylist Mary greeted me with, “I was just on the phone with a friend of mine. 5 college kids were in an accident this morning. One got ejected from the car.”

Now normally the discussion would end with how that’s a shame, were they drinking, and a swift shift in the conversation.

Not today, and not for Mary. Mary continued, “Can you imagine those poor parents, getting a call or a knock at the door, especially at this time of year?”

Well, frankly I can’t imagine it. And at that moment, I changed the topic of my blog post. I thought back about other car accidents and kids.

My daughter t-boned a car (illegally cutting in front of her, making a left turn where prohibited) and I got the call at work.

“Dad, I’ve been in a bad accident.” 


“By the movie theater.”

“I’m on my way.”

My office was in the back of this building. As I ran down the hall, a co-worker yelled, “Go OJ Go,” a reference to a Hertz Commercial featuring OJ Simpson in a happier day.

Once I got to my car and started for the movie theater, I called my daughter’s cell. My SON answered the phone.

“They are loading her in an ambulance dad.”   My mind wasn’t working. Ambulance?  I just talked to her. “Which hospital, Bud?”

I rushed to the hospital. (At a time like this, why do we rush?  She’s at the Level 1 trauma hospital, being tended to by the finest. It’s not like my being there is going to help her recovery. Intellectually, I understand it. And I know I’d rush again.)

This is the only time I heard those rumored words from the EMT, “She was lucky to be driving a Volvo, otherwise….<head shakes>”   We didn’t CHOOSE a Volvo for her. It was a hand-me-down family car. It was by chance. (Mind racing: I do believe in looking at the crash test results before buying a kid car. A car without perfect scores won’t get purchased.)  HOW IS MY DAUGHTER?

As we picked the fine pieces of windshield from her tear covered face, we (hoped|knew) she would be OK. Of course, tests were performed to ensure our parental intuition was correct, and nothing lurking and unseen was missed. It turned out she was shaken, and physically fine. It took a while for her to be comfortable in a car….

Some other local kids were not so lucky.

On October 12, 2005, I got a call from a data center nearby saying they were running on generator, and couldn’t figure out why. It was a nice night, without storms, and this made no sense. Driving over, the road was blocked by the police.

“Really bad accident ahead. Some kids hit a pole. It’s really bad.”

The power was shut off to the data center so the kids could be removed from the vehicle.

This is one of those stories where you hear things for ages. I heard the hardened first responder threw up upon arrival, as the power was still on. I heard 3 girls in a Land Rover, with two sisters passing away. I heard the sisters were rushing home, to “make curfew.” 

The site of the accident was covered in flowers as the teen friends mourned.

For this post, I went to the site to take pictures, over 6 years later. The adjacent land has been cleared, although the memorial is still there. It’s like the landscapers knew to leave the scene undisturbed.

A number of crosses remain to this day. Some large, others looking impromptu. People drive by every day…I wonder if they know or remember?

The parents put two candles in their windows….symbolizing the two sisters. The tradition of candles in the windows of New England homes goes back centuries…and represents a beacon for a weary traveler. Were the parents waiting at home, staring at the candles, waiting for the sisters to come bounding through the doors?

How did those parents learn of their daughter’s passing?  Was it a call?  A knock at the door?  How did they react? 

The years have passed. The candles were eventually extinguished, and the house sold. Have those parents ever recovered?  Do they still mourn?  Are they even together anymore?

So I have many messages to conclude this post:


  • Put your kids in safe vehicles
  • Offer to pick them up if they can’t drive (and without harassment)
  • Encourage a phone call if a curfew is going to be missed (without harrassement)


  • Don’t drink and drive
  • Get someone else to drive if you can’t
  • Drive to your skill level; it’s better to be late and alive than ontime and dead

First responders and hospitals

  • Thank God you do what you do.

Teaching a Child to Drive

Teaching driver’s education takes special attention from parents if the child is going to learn to drive well.

While varying by state, generally there is a date (around 16 years) when a learner’s permit can be obtained.  Each child in my house passed the learner’s permit test without issue…here’s how:

You’ve got to let the child drive.

Counterintuitive? Perhaps.  Illegal?  It depends.

Around the age of 12, I let the child drive for the first time in the most controlled conditions I could muster.  Generally this involved a friend’s empty field or a huge parking lot of a vacant store/factory/office building (often on a Sunday morning.)

My preference is to use a car with a centrally located hand brake…one I could easily operate from the passenger seat.

Without anyone else in attendance, I patiently took the child through the steps.  

  • Walk around the car checking for any damage or flat tires.  Watching for traffic, get in the car.  Adjust the seat/steering wheel.  Put on seatbelts.  Adjust the mirrors. 
  • Locate the headlights, the wipers, and the turn signals.
  • Practice braking (yes, before the car is started), learn the handbrake, see the accelerator.
  • Start the car.  Sit in the running car taking it all in.  (Radio off.)  No need to do anything yet.  Turn the steering wheel.  Stop the car.  Turn the steering wheel again (it turns, just really hard without power steering.)
  • Re-start the car.  Put the car in drive, with foot on brake.  Look in mirrors and around the car.  Take foot off brake.  Let car roll 10 feet.  Stop car.

At this point, 30 minutes have passed.  This is not a rush…take your time….you have years before you drive.

Look in mirrors and around the car.  Take foot off brake.  Let car roll….slowly.  Make a trip around the parking lot.  (All the time, my hand is on the emergency brake, and my head is on a swivel, looking for ANYTHING.)  Stop car.

That’s it, Day One.  The child will go home, and tell the family they drove.  You will get the “hairy eyeball”, and must continue.


Few things concerned me more as a father than watching the kids drive off the driveway by themselves the first time.  While driving school is mandatory, butt-in-seat time is mandatory.  Safety is paramount, starting with seat belts.

I used to road rally cars, and saw many cars upside down in ditches.  Simply put: people with seat belts walked away.  People without seat belts often got carried away.

This type of driving practice goes on for once every month or two.  Always start the same way and with the same exercises.  Then slowly work up to more advanced exercises….

  • park in the 5th parking spot.
  • Stop car, turn it off, everyone out, and examine how they did.
  • Try again (or try again BACKING in.)

The idea is to give the child confidence.  Confidence is not cockiness, cars can kill.  They need to understand.

Repeat this in light snow.  Most empty lots are not plowed.  Let them experience a slight slide in the car (don’t go so fast the car flips if it hits a dry spot!!)  Let them see how locking up a car on ice is worse than slow steady pressure.  (I still do this myself during the first snow!)

As a parent, you are teaching the child a skill.  Hopefully a skill they will use a lifetime.

As a parent, you must “stay cool” the entire time.  You can’t exhibit nervousness, or the child will be nervous.  If you are a nervous driver, consider getting someone else to do this.

I would put myself into an aware-trance.  I was hyper-aware of what was going on, and being encouraging, however would not allow myself to get nervous or raise my voice.

On a nice day, and with time, I would have them change a tire.  This is a skill everyone should know how to do, although I did give each of my kids a AAA card when they got their license.  Parents have to pay attention, and make sure the car doesn’t fall while on the jack!!

Personally, I learned on a standard (stick) and am comfortable driving a stick.  Unfortunately, we didn’t always have a non-automatic for the child to learn on.

I never let the kids drive on a public street, or when someone else entered the area (by foot or by car.)

By the time they get to the learner’s permit stage, they are already well versed in the basics.  Keeping their speed down is then the next challenge.

And if you’re scoring, while they all had accidents in their first couple years driving, only one was serious (thank goodness for Volvo) and only one was caused by one of them (minor - backing up in a driveway.)  Are they perfect?  No.  And they are all still driving with confidence.

What did you do to help your kids drive?  Any funny stories?  Or is it all in front of you?