Behind the Wheel with “Sigfried”
What happens when you turn 15 after your mom helps produce a DVD for parents of teen drivers?
You get your own behind-the-wheel experience documented in a blog.
So with all due apologies to Son #3, (who probably didn’t want his fifteen minutes of fame this way), DriveSafeBlog.com will be featuring true stories from our Behind-the-Wheel practice together this year. And in a token effort to make this slightly less embarrassing for my almost-youngest son, in these narratives his name will be “Sigfried.”
Sigfried and I did our first driving practice at Lake Elmo Park Reserve. It’s a perfect spot, with the exact characteristics recommended by Mike Pehl in Lesson 3 of “Roadworthy.” We didn’t get out early in the morning, but it was a chilly late afternoon so the area was completely empty of any other cars or people. Nobody needs any extra hazards or distractions the “First Time in Gear” – not the parent OR the teen driver!
Knowing all of Mike Pehl’s recommendations really makes this a comfortable experience. Obviously I’m very lucky to NOT be a parent who feels super stressed and unsure about what to do. I know how to pick a great location to do this first lesson, how to explain things to Sigfried, and exactly which skills he should start practicing in the best possible order. That sense of confidence for me as the parent is definitely helpful to Sigfried as he begins this whole adventure.
My most interesting observations from this first hour of driving practice with Sigfried are shared below.
1. It’s startling how much of a BEGINNER a novice driver is. Sigfried has played his share of driving video games and he’s a coordinated, athletic kid. But he is an absolute amateur behind the wheel and both of us can tell. His steering is not accurate; he is learning the feel of how much a twist of the steering wheel really moves the car. Obviously he knows the IDEA of the cause-and-effect but he has no experiential or muscle memory of that yet.
2. Ditto for braking. Even doing those first laps at idle speed, when Sigfried hits the brakes it is NOT smooth and graceful. We’re not quite in Whiplash Land, but it’s abrupt and jerky enough that we’re both laughing. And that’s great! Having that cordial, happy vibe in the car is “all good.” I’m relaxed, he’s intrigued and fascinated by the challenge, and we both know that doing this together is important (and something we will even have fond memories of someday, I hope).
3. During this lesson we up-the-ante to driving with some light acceleration. That reveals another new skill that is yet to develop; the subtle adjustment drivers make with the gas pedal on hills. This parking lot has an almost imperceptible “downhill” spot, but it throws Sigfried off because this is another new thing to process as a driver. He notices that the car speeds up in this area but it’s not a natural reaction for him to ease up on the accelerator yet. Again, this is really interesting to me; I think experienced drivers would not even consciously analyze this aspect of the terrain; they just “feel” it and respond intuitively. But for a novice like Sigfried, this is all new data for his body and brain to learn.
Overall, this is a great hour spent together and it bodes well for our next practice session. It does also remind me of something astonishing, though.
Mike Pehl says a lot of teenagers go with their parents to the DMV to pick up their actual learner’s permit, and then ask their folks to hand them the keys because they expect to drive the car home! Yikes. That is obviously not a good plan! My heart goes out to any parents who were ever so disoriented or caught off guard that they said “yes” to that request from their teenage driver, because that would be an awfully scary ride, and not one that makes any sense…for the teen, the parent, or the other drivers on the road near them.
Drive safe, ride safe, everybody! And stay tuned for the next installment of
“Behind the Wheel with Sigfried.”