Washington Post Column

Make Driving Lessons a Family Affair

By Ron Shaffer
Sunday, June 18, 2006; C02

I want to to review a subject today that I have felt is particularly important: driver education, especially for teens.

This matter came up again the other day when I was giving a speech in Bowie and a lady said the Dr. Gridlock column had saved her life. "I was on I-81 near Winchester," she said, "when a truck ran me off the road. I remembered what you said about taking the foot off the accelerator, waiting till it was clear and then easing back onto the road."

That's one drill we emphasize for teens, because so many run off the road and overcorrect, causing them to flip or lose control, often with fatal results.

I suggest that parents or family members provide driver education and not rely on commercial driving schools. After 20 years, I can't name a single one that you folks have said is worthwhile. Rather, I get complaints about instructors at driving schools who don't drive at night, avoid interstate highways and run errands.

So I suggest parents or family members take charge, and don't sign off on a solo license until you are absolutely comfortable that the youngster is ready to drive alone.

The magical number is probably not going to be at age 16. Don't get stampeded. I recommend a minimum of 1,000 miles of interstate driving and 1,000 miles of suburban road travel, plus extensive practice in the District.

While we were training one of my Grid-daughters, this scary event occurred: We were on a rural, two-lane road in North Carolina when she pulled around to pass a slow-moving vehicle. Directly in our path was a speeding sports car. We screamed, and she fell back. We realized she had never been in that situation and had no experience judging oncoming speed. That's one for the checklist.

Be sure to drive at night, in the rain, on snow and ice and on interstate highways. Practice merging, entering and exiting freeways, entering the Beltway from a left-hand exit and how to turn into corresponding lanes.

Consider what to do if an animal darts in front of the car or a wasp circles overhead. How to look out for red-light runners and what to do when tailgated. The importance of speed limits. How to pass. Record the number of an auto club.

Here are the telephone numbers of the one-day defensive driving courses that readers have frequently requested: Car Guys of Rockville at 800-800-4897 and BSR Inc. of Summit Point, W.Va., at 304-725-6512.

Also, a highly recommended group called Driver's Edge from Las Vegas occasionally does free one-day clinics in the Washington area. The number is 877-633-3343 or log on to http://www.driversedge.org .

I recommend starting with the book "Safe Young Drivers" by McLean author Phil Berardelli.

Finally, HBO broadcast a spectacular documentary last year, "Smashed: Toxic Tales of Teens and Alcohol." It shows Maryland teens who have been victims of drunken driving, their painful recovery and the lifelong effects. Everyone should see it.

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in the Extra and Sunday in the Metro section. You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, atdrgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county, and day and evening phone numbers.