Teen Driving: How We Shot Ourselves in the Head in California

 

At some point – and I could go figure out when this happened but it pretty much doesn’t matter – we took Driver’s Education out of our schools. Stupidest move ever.

If you aren’t aware, here’s how our kids learn to drive today.

1. They take an online course to get a certificate. This is a joke because it can be gamed and passed really easily. So the only kids learning at this point are the ones who are earnest and naive.

2. They study for their learner’s permit, this is the written test at the DMV. Again. super easy. There are so many videos and online tests you are really in trouble if you can’t memorize enough to pass the test.

3. Immediately, upon obtaining the learner’s permit, they have to take one hour (of six hours total!) of driving instruction from a licensed driving instructor. After their first hour, they can start driving with you, their licensed adult over age 25.

4. They drive with you – or a reasonable facsimile. (There’s a whole blog here to be written about who gets to drive with the learner based on temperament, skill and tolerance for anxiety and bickering. Pisces were born for the job. For everyone else, this is why we drink.)

Step 4 is very important and here’s why.

You know when you scream asshole at that person who blew through the yield sign causing you to slam on your brakes? Or the sonofabitch who cut you off on the freeway after they tailgated you for the last three miles? Or dipshit who thinks 30 miles per hour is too fast and so they serve as an illegal pace car for everyone else. Or the person who is on their phone or eating or doing their make-up or parked badly or …. you get the point. THAT’s who’s teaching our next generation to drive. Seriously. Bad drivers are responsible for future drivers. Think about that.

5. They log five more hours with their professional driving teacher. We supposedly had the best person from the shabby mix in Santa Cruz. Her advice, “Katie should park closer to the curb.” She also told my kid I had painted my license plate so traffic cameras couldn’t record my information. Um yeah, no. They are just old. Why would she say something so stupid? She also said don’t go to the Watsonville DMV – more bad advice. They turnsed out to be the nicest people at the most positive DMV I’ve ever been to! I love those people (and I’ve been back with another kid and just as nice)!

6. They take their driving test. And an amazing amount of them are passing on first try. It’s an eight minute test; typically with one “gotcha” that we all know about because we talk to the people who’ve recently taken the test. And there you go. Instant driver.

Only here’s the thing. This is so stupid.

They have no common understanding. In the olden days, when we had driver’s ed, we all learned the same things. We all knew the rules, the consequences and there was agreement among all teens on how things worked. That’s just gone. Gone, gone, gone.

Now their skills depend now on how parents interpret the rules. Kids are 100% learning by example so if you use your cell in the car, guess that they do. If you swear at other drivers (oops, me), guess what they do. That tailgating that’s your bad habit? It’s theirs too. They can’t even support each other because they don’t have a common understanding.

They have no collective sense of consequences. They all have heard us tell them what can go wrong, but I’m convinced their sense of immortality causes them to dismiss it as soon as they hear it. But remember when we watched hours of car wrecks and stupidity – together – so at least it was recorded in our brains? They get none of that. We attended a workshop put on by the CHP – it was good – but I could see it just wash over the kids. Because they only saw it once; in one 90 minute class.

Adaptation to change is left to our interpretation. I’m convinced driving is harder today than its ever been and as adults, we’ve adapted accordingly (but not uniformly or with any training). More cars. More poorly trained drivers. Complex dashboards, Cell phones. I don’t think we’ve done a great job but at least we have driving experience on our side. These kids could actually use four months of class time to understand all this complexity, and instead, we’ve eliminated it.

And then there’s the gift of provisional driving. They aren’t supposed to drive with other kids for the first year of their license. This is a corollary misdemeanor from what I can figure out. Corollary because they aren’t stopped for having kids in the car. They have to be stopped for some other offense and then get cited for the provisional driver violation. I think some lawmaker thought this law would cut down on teen accidents. Maybe it has (you can review the study – it honestly looks like too many variables are co-mingled to really get to an answer).

The truth is – at night, I want my daughter to have someone else with her when she drives. I like the extra pair of eyes on the road and a buddy to keep her safe as she walks to the football game or store.I spent a lot of time letting her drive with friends in the car during permit time because I wanted her to learn how to ignore them and focus on driving. Fingers crossed she grokked it.

So what’s my recommendation?

We need to put drivers ed back in school. I can’t figure out why our insurance companies aren’t paying for this (if we want to play follow the money). They have the means and it would save them big bucks ultimately to have these kids all on the same page.

Then I say keep the provisional driver stuff but allow one other person in the car because we might actually get more compliance. Teens don’t do stuff alone. Make a law that instantly turns them into violators is nuts.

Finally – and I know this will shock everyone – when a teen goes through drivers ed, use that time to refresh parent’s driving skills (maybe they get $50 discount on insurance for attending a refresher course). We will still be sitting next to them during the permit months. Wouldn’t it be good if we were reminded of all the things we’ve forgotten since we started driving? Who goes first at a four-way stop? Are you allowed to pass a bicyclist on the right if you have to cross a double yellow on the left? Can you have liquor in the car if you aren’t drinking it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. It’s been a hot button for me. Please let me know what you think!


4 thoughts on “Teen Driving: How We Shot Ourselves in the Head in California

  1. (Warning long comment/post)

    Love your suggestions for reform! I HATED being my son’s prime source of driver’s ed and, even though we have a great relationship, several times it was in great peril with BOTH of us getting tired of my voice while he was driving!

    Also, having just passed my drivers “written” test (on computer in our local Oregon DMV office) and having had to take it twice to pass, I disagree that the tests are easy. (I also narrowly passed my latest CA one about 5 years ago). I am a smart woman who has run a business on her own for 20 years and hasn’t had an accident or ticket for 3 decades…but there are always about 8 questions that are NOT common sense and don’t overlap with ANYthing I studied (granted, I didn’t read the manual cover to cover but took about 25 practice tests online until I could get at least 98% right!). I’ve always thought that if I have such a challenging time, how the heck are ESL folks or high school kids passing? Sigh…in 8 yrs when my brain is probably going to be even worse at memorization and test taking, God knows whether I’ll be able to pass!

    Last point: so glad you found an aberrant CA DMV office in Watsonville! My experience in OR was just like you described…the folks there were so friendly and HAPPY…and that was totally counter to my CA DMV experiences where my 15 yr old son described the employees as “soul dead”. What the hell is happening to these poor people over their careers that makes them that way? I’m SURE you have some thoughts on that, Jenn!

     
    1. You know me, always have thoughts on these things but yes, the Watsonville DMV is extraordinary. Don’t want to tell to many people so they don’t get slammed, but somehow, they are still enjoying their jobs. We really do need to reexamine this insanity. And yes, it’s even more important as we have folks who aren’t used to our rules, trying to assimilate!

       

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