Drive Time

t’s a time-honored tradition, a rite of passage for both parents and teens: Driving lessons.

In my case, most of my lessons came not from my dad or mom but from a grouchy old man whose gray hair was tinged the same yellow-brown of a used cigarette filter: Mr. Schoene, my high school driver’s ed teacher.

I’ll never forget the day my classmate Rick Barlis drove through a stop sign or the time I crossed a four-lane divided highway and started to pull into traffic going the wrong direction. No wonder the man had gray hair and smoked like a chimney.

It seems everybody has a novice driver anecdote, or at least they recall some words of wisdom from dear old Dad.

Here a few tidbits from my friends:

“I almost backed into a creek when Dad was teaching me. The only thing that stopped the car was a post. My dad used to kiss the ground when we returned home after practicing. And, he said I needed to drive a tank, then I could just bump into things and not get hurt.”

“We had a steep driveway, and I had to learn to start and stop (using a stick shift) on that hill without drifting backward before he’d take me anywhere else to practice.”

“My dad always told me to drive like I had a hot cup of coffee between my legs.”

“I had to learn how to change a tire and to check my oil before I could get my driver’s license.”

“My dad told me to drive like I have a little bit of sense!”

In her experience, Mary Lyons, driving instructor and owner of Ameridrive driving school based in St. Clairsville, slightly more dads than moms teach their kids to drive.

“A lot of dads I think are more patient and not as nervous. Moms are more afraid and have to be in control. Dads are more relaxed,” Lyons said. Of her 14 instructors at the school’s eight locations, three are women.

She added, however, when teaching her own daughter to drive, she was the more patient one.

“Of course, we used a driver’s ed car and I have a brake on my side” – yes, they really do have those! – “so, my situation was a little different than other parents,” she noted.

Erikka Storch of Wheeling said she and her husband, Tom, shared the instructor duties for their son, Seth, who is now 17. He was an easy student, she said, because of his early experiences on four-wheelers and driving his dad’s truck on their rural property.

“He’s had a little bit more exposure to vehicles,” she said. The most difficult thing to teach him was defensive driving techniques. AAA notes that a Foundation for Traffic Safety Study found “few parents” shared more complex driving tips with their teen drivers, “such as visual scanning or anticipating other drivers’ behaviors.”

I remember my mom repeating her father’s driving advice to me: “Always watch out for the other guy.”

Storch said she is a little nervous about her 15-year-old daughter getting her driver’s permit “because she’s more social and distracted.”

That isn’t gender specific, though. Waiting for his third driving lesson to start at Ameridrive, Luke Sorge of St. Clairsville said the hardest part about driving is “paying attention all the time.”

Distracted driving among teens is becoming more and more of a problem. Lyons said it is the single biggest difference between teens today and those she taught when she joined the staff of Ameridrive, then Stark Driving School, in 1998. It’s a message the instructors emphasize.

“Stay off the cell phone. Turn it off while you’re in the car. Nothing is that important,” Lyons said.

A recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Study analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers. Distraction was a factor in 58 percent of them. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration previously estimated that only 14 percent of teen crashes involved distracted driving.

The most common distraction was “interacting with one or more passengers,” and the second most common was cell phone use.

Lyons said other than driving home the distraction message, dads and moms need to know that the recommended hand positions have changed. Most of us were taught to keep our hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel. Now, the recommendation is 9 and 3 or, even better, 8 and 4, Lyons said. The reason is, in case of air bag deployment, to avoid the air bag propelling the driver’s arms into his or her face.

Although Wheeling Park High School and John Marshall High School both offer driver’s ed classes, driver’s ed is not required to get a license in West Virginia. If kids don’t take professional lessons, however, they at least have to have 50 hours or supervised driving with a driver 21 or over, and 10 of those hours must be at night.

In Ohio, local high schools no longer offer driver’s ed, but teens are required to take a course – either online or through a private driving school – before getting a license. Ameridrive operates eight locations in Belmont, Monroe, Jefferson and Harrison counties. The course is $350 and includes 24 hours of class time and eight hours of driving. Classes are three or four hours long and take place three times a week for two or three weeks.

Summer is the busiest time of year at the school, Lyons said. It’s also the season more teens are on the roads. In fact, AAA calls the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day “The 100 Deadliest Days” for teenage drivers, based on another foundation study. They urge parents to be vigilant about stressing safety, such as limiting passengers in the car and no cell phone use.

Back at Ameridrive, Luke Sorge said his grandpa already taught him to drive out in the country when he was younger but that his mom has been doing the most driving with him now. His dad, who lives in Wheeling, will let him drive sometimes, too. He is looking forward to July 14, his 16th birthday, and being the first of his friends to get a license.

“(Mom) taught me how to parallel park and stuff,” he said, adding she’s “pretty patient.” Although, there was that time when he first went driving with her, and he took the left fork of a Y in the road without noticing the car coming from the other direction. …

Always watch out for the other guy.

Safe travels!