Proofing the advice page on Friday afternoon, I came across a letter to Dear Abby from a teenager who had passed driver’s ed but was still super afraid to operate a motor vehicle.
In a nutshell, Abby told the person a car was just like any other machine, and that machines could be operated safely with the proper training, which the writer had obviously received. Abby went on to suggest the person simply continue with supervised practice and, if that didn’t work, to seek counseling for what she viewed as a budding phobia.
Before I give my opinion on Abby’s advice, some background on my own teen automobile history:
I couldn’t wait to drive and insisted on being brought to the DMV on my 15th birthday to take my learner’s permit exam, a written-only test. Alas, I hadn’t read the driver’s manual all that much and thus failed, but then I studied more and passed the next day. My mom taught me to drive in her Plymouth Duster, and my brother Duane (VW Beetle) and sister Deb (VW Rabbit) taught me how to handle a stick shift.
The following June, for the insurance benefit, I enrolled in driver’s ed, which was offered through the school district. The teacher was John Burke, who wasn’t a bad guy despite having played baseball at rival Milwaukie High, and the cars, no joke, were Pontiac Trans Ams — the ones with the flames on the hood.
Two months later, on my 16th birthday, I returned to the DMV for my behind-the-wheel driver’s license exam and steered the Duster to a passing result of 86 out of 100. Seriously, I thought I had driven flawlessly and was almost disappointed with the score, but I did take to heart something the examiner said during my post-test critique, which included the admonition that I hadn’t used my mirrors enough: “Always remember that half the world is behind you.”
OK, now back to the letter writer’s fear of driving:
Generally speaking, I would say that if you’re afraid to drive, don’t drive, regardless of how old you are. It seems to me that a fearful driver can’t help but be sort of a dangerous, distracted driver.
Obviously, our society is structured such that it’s beneficial to know how to operate a car, and so if you do have a fear of driving, well, it would be better if you didn’t have that fear. I don’t think I’d send anyone to counseling for it, though; that seems like an unnecessary and possibly heavy-handed forcing of the issue.
Rather, if you’re scared to drive but would like to drive, just talk to some of your friends about your concerns and practice as much as you can in parking lots and on country roads, and gradually you’ll realize that driving is quite safe both for you and those around you.