Up until this week, my son’s driving time had been conducted in controlled settings with limited risk. At first, we had practiced the tasks for the Massachusetts Road Test on a cul de sac used by the Registry of Motor Vehicles for its license exam. Then, on a Sunday morning with few other cars on the road, I had my son drive from the RMV parking lot to the local mall, practice parking, turning and backing up, and return to the Registry lot.
But this time the driving would be done in a more organic setting. It was a late autumn afternoon, a Monday, with all the requisite traffic and hazards that come with city driving. I believed my son was ready for this, even if he didn’t quite trust himself at first. That’s because he had always been very level-headed, even cautious, when embarking on new endeavors. He possesses an impulse control and maturity unusual in teenage boys, and I had faith in him now.
He was surprised when I handed him the car keys right away. We were in the lot of a restaurant across the street from his mother’s house. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“You’re going to drive us to your high school, then back through downtown,” I said.
He gave me an uncertain look but took the keys anyway. Without being reminded, he adjusted the mirrors and turned the ignition.
The street we turned on to winds past the city Middle School, and because of that there are multiple speed bumps in front of the school building. My boy navigated the speed bumps well, slowing down for each, and deferring to oncoming traffic aiming to make a left turn across our lane.
My son adhered to the posted speed limits and knew that school zones have a lower speed limit than regular thickly settled areas. One half mile up the hill we came to a traffic light, which was green for us. This was where we needed to make a right turn to drive to his high school. My son shot me a quick side glance and asked, “do we have to stop?”
“Not if it’s green,” I reminded him. The light stayed green, but my son, not used to making right turns without stopping, made the turn a bit too wide. He didn’t encroach on the other lane or screech his tires, nothing dramatic. Just a bit too wide. “That’s okay,” I reassured him. “You will get better.” And I remembered this from The Parent’s Supervised Driving Program: “Coach your teen about easing up on the gas pedal to reduce speed.”
After we navigated the road to the high school without incident, I had my son take a side street that would connect to the main street of his hometown. This would be the most difficult section of our trip. There was a delivery van illegally parked ahead of us on our side of the street, and a line of cars heading towards us from the other direction. My son did not panic, however. He stopped behind the van, waited for the traffic to pass, then carefully passed the van and proceeded to the next intersection.
I’ve been driving for nearly 40 years, and to see these challenges through the eyes of a new driver was enlightening for me. I remembered back to when I first became a parent, asking God to bless me with both strength and patience for difficult and stressful times. I often fell short of having both when needed, but today things were going well.
I directed my son to the main intersection in the downtown area, and he waited at the red light behind several cars. When the light turned green, this time he made the right turn flawlessly and was almost back home when an older man on a bicycle rode out into the crosswalk just ahead of us. My son hit the brake in plenty of time, and this gave me the chance to point out the bicycle travel lane to our right, which many communities now have. I reminded him that the designated bicycle lane was one more thing to watch out for when driving, and to always anticipate the potential presence of a cyclist on these roads.
Moments later we turned right and returned to the restaurant lot where we started. My son looked at me and said, “That wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.” We agreed to keep practicing this route. Soon we plan to advance to a longer trip on a country road, then two-lane highways and, eventually, an interstate. And of course we will continue to work on the basics of the road exam. All the while I will pray for strength and patience.
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