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Another teen driver on the road

White-knuckled Dad plays co-pilot, helps steer daughter toward success

Posted: Sunday, March 04, 2001

You could say we made a final review of Alaska's driving rules on the way to my daughter's road test.

She made a rolling California stop for the stop sign leaving Skyview High School.

"That was probably enough for safety's sake, but it won't work for the test," I said.

"Whaddaya mean?" she said, with a look that implied, "Ah, gimme a break, Dad."

I made her repeat her mantra.

"I'm going to watch the signs and drive the speed limit, stay in my own lane and look before I change lanes," she said.

Perfect.

I upped the emphasis when she blew the red light by Fred Meyer, where we planned to meet the driving instructor who would give the only test required for Bonnie to become a state-licensed road hazard.

"Bonnie, you little...!" I exclaimed.

"I'm not a little..."

"You're supposed to stop for a red light."

"But it was right-on-red."

"You still have to stop. I thought you reviewed the rule book."

"I couldn't find it."

Given the debris that clutters her floor, I can't understand how she even walks across her room. But it was too late.

The driving instructor waved as Bonnie swung the Subaru a little faster than I would have liked into a parking space beside a $35,000 pickup. He checked the turn signals and her learner's permit and recorded the details on a clipboard.

"I'll tell you up front, I'll fail you immediately if you don't come to a complete stop for a stop sign, if you don't observe a school zone or if you don't stop for a red light," he told her.

The look on her face was priceless.

He told her not to sweat the parallel parking test -- she'd have three tries.

I walked into Fred Meyer and watched through a window. She pulled alongside his car -- well, within 20 feet -- and backed perpendicular to the driveway until a rear wheel climbed the curb. I pondered the $30 fee for the test.

She circled the parking lot for a second try. This time, she pulled up close to his car, then backed in parallel to the curb. Almost parallel, anyway. She circled the parking lot again, then disappeared down the Sterling Highway. I guessed that she must have passed the parking test.

If the courts haven't shot down Napster yet, download a copy of "The Driving Instructor," by comedian Bob Newhart. It's an honest appraisal of what it's like to teach your daughter to drive. I started with Bonnie two years ago, when she was a sophomore at Skyview and I had a Subaru Justy, a three-cylinder rice-rocket that would fit in the average bathtub. I'd park it on our subdivision road, trade seats, then let her try to release the clutch without killing the engine. Then, came the challenges of staying between the alders and learning to shift.

Once Bonnie got the hang of the subdivision road, I took her to Tustumena Lake Road, where she could go faster and meet little traffic. Turning onto side roads was the hard part. She had an all-or-nothing approach to the steering wheel. She took the corners tight and had trouble, during the ensuing panic, telling the brake peddle from the gas.

That's how the Justy wound up teetering at the top of a five-foot snowbank. The nice thing about the Justy, though, was that it was nearly light enough for one person to pick up and set on the road.

While Bonnie spent her junior year in Finland, we traded the Justy for a bigger Subaru, with airbags. In August, she renewed her learner's permit and started practicing her driving each morning on the way to school. I sat in the co-pilot's seat, ready to grab the wheel in case she strayed too close to a guard rail -- something I did only a couple of times.

There were times when I jammed my foot helplessly into the carpet as Bonnie hurtled at warp speed toward a red light. There was the panic in the other driver's eyes when she inadvertently switched lanes turning the corner at the Soldotna Y.

Now, though, her skills have improved, and I seldom fear for my life. I thought she was ready for the test, but I couldn't help but wonder as I waited by the windows at Fred Meyer.

As the car returned, Bonnie gave a thumbs-up.

"She didn't scare the pants off you?" I asked the instructor.

"I'm an adrenalin junkie," he said. "But she did good. There's just a few things she needs to work on."

He signed the certificate.

Doug Losbaugh is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.



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