It’s A Dangerous Road Out There

I am convinced there needs to be a course for all new drivers–and old drivers, for that matter–called Urban Vehicular Combat (UVC) Instruction.

Who is in the driver’s seat?

I came to this realization as I’ve been preparing my 17-year-old son to take his driver’s test–yesterday, if you’re reading this on Friday, August 10th.

I have been a stickler about making him drive in a wide variety of conditions for way more than the required hours.

These many hours have included all the standard stuff, but more than a few hours of high-speed, rush-hour interstate highway time.

Once I’d recovered from one of these outings, after my heart was out of my throat and my white knuckles had some color in them again, I realized how terrifying learning to drive can be–for the teacher.

My parents had it easy, or maybe people just didn’t worry as much about things then.

By the time I was about 10, I was maneuvering our old Ford tractor around the circular driveway in our yard. It was a small tractor, and had the kind of clutch and brake that you could stand up on, so it was just right for me.

I’d tool around the driveway, mostly avoiding obstacles like cars and telephone poles. Every once in a while, I’d do a turn-around behind the barn.

By the next year, I was all over the farm on that little baby, and my dad started putting me to work hauling hay, straw, and stones. It wasn’t so much fun after that.

So I moved on to the family pickup truck. I couldn’t reach the clutch and brake very well and still be able to see over the oversized steering wheel on that old Chevy, so I’d have to stomp on the clutch and throw it in gear, then pull myself up and start steering. Stopping was optional.

I guess nobody really worried, because there wasn’t all that much to hit. The stone foundation of the barn could withstand a small nuclear attack, fenceposts could be replaced, cows knew to clear out when they heard the truck coming.

Top speed, downhill, I probably didn’t exceed 30 mph, and there were no other vehicles to compete with; so I suppose my dad just figured it was all in a day’s experience.

When I was about 14 or so, he started to teach me fundamentals of road smarts. My dad was about the safest driver on the road, anywhere, in the world.

He emphasized defensive driving before it was even a glimmer of an idea in AAA’s lexicon. He taught me about the dangers of tailgating and speeding and getting caught up in knots of fast-moving (55 mph then, 80+ mph now) traffic.

All in all, he did a darned fine job. Over the years, I’ve attended defensive driving classes taught by well-paid consultants talking about “thinking ahead, knowing what’s happening 11 seconds in front of you, always having an escape route,” etc.

I’ve often thought, “My dad could teach this class; these are his ideas.”

So I’ve passed these ideas on to my son, who has learned them well and is shaping up to be an excellent defensive driver.

Which brings me back to the UVC course.

I’ve come to realize there is not an easy way to teach a budding driver how to negotiate six lanes of high-speed, interstate highway traffic.

You can tell him about it, try to explain what to do, actually drive him out there and show him how it’s done.

But when you are sitting in the passenger seat and he maneuvers onto the entry ramp and begins increasing speed, as he propels that 2,500-pound vehicle into the right lane of traffic, that’s when it hits you.

There is a moment when your life flashes before your eyes, and you realize you have absolutely no control anymore. You don’t want give too much guidance or you’ll rattle him; you can’t grab the wheel or hit the brakes.

You realize your life is in the hands of an inexperienced driver about to get onto a black ribbon of death with hundreds of “experienced” maniacs who are half asleep, upset, distracted, putting on makeup, texting…all at 80 mph.

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