My 15-year-old son stepped on the gas and careened our SUV forward, 30 mph, straight toward the edge of the parking lot at Bellevue Community College.
I held onto the “oh crap” handle above the passenger door and fought the urge to correct him. We were at the Advanced Collision Avoidance class taught by Defensive Driving School — and he was doing exactly what the instructor had told him to do.
One of his teachers waved a flag and my teenager slammed on the antilock brakes. The car shuddered and we stopped with a heart-pounding lurch that sent my adrenaline levels soaring.
“How was that?” my son asked.
“Great,” I answered in a weak voice.
“What do you think?” he joked. “Am I ready for NASCAR?”
The instructor waved us through and we faced the next obstacle. This time, one of the teachers rolled a basketball in front of the car, like a kid might out in our neighborhood, seconds before running into the street to retrieve it. My teen reacted quickly, and we stopped just in time.
Co-piloting my son while he slammed on the brakes was a good experience for me, too. When I learned to drive, my instructors taught me to “pump the brakes” because most cars didn’t have antilock technology. After experiencing the antilock breaks engaging over and over again, I’m less likely to fall back on outdated training during an accident.
Another part of the course, which might be easier for parents to recreate on their own in an empty parking lot, was slaloms. Dozens of orange cones were set up for the drivers to practice swerving around.
“If you don’t knock down a cone or two, you’re not driving fast enough,” the instructor said. He wanted the teens to approach the cones like they were real-life obstacles to avoid at the last minute, as if they were on Highway 99 and a lawnmower dropped off the back of a truck, right in front of them.
Parents got a turn at the slaloms, too — and it was nerve wracking. It was hard for me to drive as fast as the instructor wanted, because 26 years of driving experience forced my brain to tell me: “You’re in a parking lot, Jenny. Slow down.” Sure, I would have avoided the lawnmower, but I might have caused a six-car pile up behind me. Apparently, I’m not ready for NASCAR either.
The CDC reports that in 2017 “six teens aged 16-19 died every day due to motor vehicle crashes, and hundreds more were injured.” No wonder teaching teens to drive is frightening. One tiny error and people could die. That’s why it was worthwhile to wake up early on a Saturday morning, drive all the way over to Bellevue and endure 1 hour and 45 minutes of absolute terror.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.