Parents would not be the best driver's education instructors

March 2, 2011 

High school is filled with many memories. For some, it's being crowned prom queen or winning the championship game. For others, it's a daily barrage of acne, fighting and dodging bullies in the hallway.

Whether you were a jock, nerd, or the teacher’s pet, we all had one thing in common — driver’s ed.

Under newly proposed legislation, parents would have the option of purchasing a Department of Licensing curriculum, paying an administrative fee, and assuming the duty of teaching their children how to be safe, courteous, and lawful drivers on our Washington roads. While I respect the intent of the legislation and recognize that it would be a cost-saving measure for many parents in these tough economic times, the value of driver’s education through a school or commercial outfit should not be overlooked.

In high school, I dreaded the thought of having to spend more driving time, or any time really, with my parents. I much preferred the company of my driver’s ed teacher, probably because the training vehicles were much more inconspicuous than they are today.

When I merged onto the freeway for the first time, I appreciated the calm reassurance of my instructor rather than the intense, somewhat threatening stare I would get from my mother, which caused me to wonder whether she was more worried about bodily injury to me or her beloved Mercedes. I also found value in watching the car accident videos, which contained the necessary amount of blood and carnage to encourage my friends to have designated drivers if they chose foolishly to engage in underage drinking.

At my school, the instructor also strapped us into a crash simulator so that we could feel the impact of a collision at just 35 miles per hour. This type of education was priceless.

If the new legislation passes, many parents, to save a few bucks, may choose to become their children’s only source of driver’s education. The legislation smartly requires that parents have no driving infractions within the past three years and no DUIs on their record. Unfortunately, a clean driving record is neither a good predictor of the ability to teach someone else how to drive nor is it indicative of one’s own skill behind the wheel.

One of the worst drivers I know shamelessly toots her own horn about her perfect driving record. Yet, a record free of any infractions or DUIs simply means that she has never been caught, or that on more than one occasion, she has successfully talked her way out of a ticket. While this particular parent may think that she rules the road, should she be the one teaching her child the rules of the road?

A trained, experienced, and neutral third party providing driver’s education does offer some reassurance that all children will receive consistent and standardized instruction. If my parents had been solely responsible for teaching me how to drive, I’m convinced that I’d have the mouth of a truck driver, but certainly not the driving proficiency of one. My driver’s education would have been relegated to an empty mall parking lot.

Parents should carefully consider whether to assume the additional responsibility of solely teaching their children to drive. While it may be cheaper to forego driver’s ed, at what cost? For me and my parents, it would have cost us our sanity.

In my experience, with an instructor, family dynamics are not an issue and the focus is squarely on learning how to drive in a safe and responsible manner. And the resulting embarrassment your child may experience operating the clearly marked driver’s ed vehicle? Priceless.

Ami Peterson, who lives and works in Olympia, is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. She can be reached at amipetersonoly@yahoo.com.

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