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A teen-driving tale for parents

Tuesday, July 16, 2013by  Jon Osterberg

Railroad crossingIt’s tough being a parent, handing over the keys, and watching your kid drive away solo for the first time.

Even if your son or daughter is an A+ student and as innocent as a Shirley Temple movie, dread washes over you at the thought of twisted fenders and broken glass.

I dodged danger for nearly a year after getting my license. In that era, unlike today, teenagers considered driving a rite of passage that came no later than age 16. If it did, either you were a crummy driver and couldn’t pass driver’s ed (taken at high school for practically nothing), or you were a bit odd.

Mr. Jacobson taught driver’s ed at our high school. We spent hours in a portable beside the gym using simulators made with real Chevy II dashboards. Mr. Jacobson projected a film from the back of the room onto a screen at the front; the film depicted the view through the windshield of our “cars,” and we would “drive” the simulators accordingly.

After a few weeks of make-believe we drove real cars, usually three students at a time, with Mr. Jacobson in the front passenger seat. “Establish your lane before moving over!” was his mantra, and “Don’t get velocitized after exiting the freeway!”

I think I did okay. A classmate named David reminded me on Facebook recently that one day he drove so badly, Mr. Jacobson ordered him to pull over immediately and had me take David’s place.
Jon's old ride

As soon as I passed driver’s ed in June 1970, I took and aced my driving test, proud to have scored 96 out of 100. Mom had a cool car, a yellow 1967 Mustang with black bucket seats and a 289 V-8. On rare occasions she’d let me use it. I had no tickets, no trouble, no stupid stunts.

The next February my buddy Greg and I met some friends to go night skiing. Mom let me drive the Mustang. Approaching North Bend, Wash., on U.S. 10 (this was before I-90), we dropped down a long hill that approached a train crossing. Suddenly the red crossing lights flashed and bells sounded. A train approached, somewhere out of sight. I slowed until, nearly stopped at the crossing, we looked both ways and still saw no train. “Hit it!” Greg yelled. I mashed the gas and drove onward, too impatient to wait.

Immediately, police lights pierced the darkness in my rear-view mirror, and I sheepishly received my first ticket. Later I learned that for years the bottom of that hill had been a favorite haunt for State Patrol troopers.

Driving distractions in my teens included blaring AM radios, rowdy passengers, and flashy muscle cars daring me to race. And later, “Smoke On the Water” or “Cinnamon Girl” turned up to 11 on my cassette deck.

Thankfully there were no cell phones, which had foiled the young driver in the Herald story.

This missive offers no sage advice to parents, other than: Enforce the graduated-licensing law. Maintain zero tolerance for driving and texting and hand-held cell phones.

And expect that, regardless of how much you trust your teenager, you will feel some angst at his or her early excursions.

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