Braille Monitor                                                    January 2008

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Surviving Teen Driving: Tips for Blind Parents

by Judy Jones

Jada and Sadie Jones From the Editor: Judy and Chris Jones are leaders in the NFB of Washington. They are also the parents of two daughters, who now drive. They have gathered valuable experience in surviving the dreaded process of transforming teenagers from fantasy-obsessed car dreamers to responsible car drivers. The only wisdom I can contribute to Judyís lively and sensible advice is the discovery our family made that broken white canes stuck into water- or sand-filled milk jugs make great markers in a parking lot when a learner is trying to master parking. Here is Judyís advice:

Most of you are probably more knowledgeable about cars than I was, or still am, for that matter. My husband, who is also blind, owned a car when he was single for the convenience of ride-sharing. But what I knew about cars when we started on our driving education adventure, I dredged up from information gleaned from conversations with my parents twenty to thirty years ago. Of course I've been a passenger in many cars, but that doesn't count, especially if you don't pay much attention to the car or the road and trust the driver.

Although we're relatively new to living with driving teens, we want to share what has helped us so far. From the time our eldest announced she wanted to drive a Barbie Jeep when she grew up and our youngest declared she wanted to drive a pink sparkle Barbie car, we knew it was only a matter of time before we'd need to deal with the intricacies of helping our sighted children safely navigate roads and highways along with all the decisions: safest vehicle, car insurance, automatic or stick, and the details of maintenance. At our national conventions I drank in advice and information provided by other blind parents.

As the girls got older, Jada wanted a "big diesel, gas-guzzling, manly beast." Never mind that gas-guzzling also meant dollar-guzzling. With D-Day (driving-day) around the corner, every "tight" car or truck they saw was still "the one-and-only!" They had to come to the eventual realization, however, that what they thought they wanted and what they would have to agree to months later were very different.
So how and when did we start this process?

1. Not everyone is ready to drive at age sixteen. When the sighted public meets blind parents with sighted kids of driving age, they assume this will be our transportation answer from now on. Not so fast! It's not fair to put that kind of pressure on kids, even if they're itching to drive. Not everyone is ready to handle that level of responsibility by the magical birthday. Don't cave in to public pressure. Our eldest, Jada, started driving at age eighteen, and our youngest started several months ago, at age sixteen.

2. Educate yourself in order to educate your kids. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Get over the clueless feeling by informing yourself. Your kids and their safety are worth it.

A. Get a copy of the current driver's manual from your Department of Motor Vehicles and go over it well in advance. In our state the DMV has a Website you can access that includes a practice written test.

B. Also check for any simulated computer driving games for preteens.

C. Find out about driving schools in your area that will work for you and your teen. As your teen is studying for his or her permit, brush up on state driving laws again in case they have changed since you did your initial check.

3. Talk to your kids when you see them showing an interest in driving, and keep a sense of humor through the whole process. This doesn't mean making them memorize the driver's manual when they're five, but for us it meant talking together about some of the details of driver etiquette and rules of the road. Sighted parents can show their kids through example. They can ride around with a teen who has his/her permit, coaching and helping. Since we can't legally do that, we had to come up with other ways to help.

4. Ask friends and family to ride along to coach. We scheduled driving rides with them, offering to pay for gas and making sure it was quite all right for our novice to use their vehicle. We ran into no snags. You can also pay for extra drives through your local driving school while your child is attending.

5. Choose a car. This felt overwhelming to me since I was so clueless about cars. I started by finding an insurance company with the most reasonable rates that would work for us. We ended up with the company that insures our home, and we'd already established a relationship with the agent. So I didn't feel too bad admitting how ignorant I was and what information I wanted. I learned that non-sports, four-door cars are cheaper to insure. The insurance company encouraged us to call in as we found prospective vehicles to check the rates. Having no other driver in the family, we were going to face higher rates than a family with a vehicle already.

Based on our findings, we went car shopping and ended up with--well--a Jetta GT--not exactly a family car, but oh, so cute. And--well, because the price was right, the car in such great shape, and our daughter was in love with it, it became ours. At least it's a four-door. In the buying process we talked with everyone we knew who drove and arrived at a general consensus, and a trusted friend who knew about cars test-drove it for us. Our daughter named it Velma, and now volunteer adult drivers could ride along in our car, the one Jada would use to take the actual test.

6. If you've never believed in the power of prayer before, start now. I warned both daughters that I would probably be more strict than usual because this driving thing was new territory for me, so they had better have patience. I told Jada to tell her driving instructor that if he felt comfortable riding with her with his eyes closed, she was good to go. Seriously, both girls are very good drivers and are patient with me. I still say, "Drive carefully," in inclement weather and ask questions like, "Have you got your wallet, your license, your cell phone?" Then I turn around and say something like, "Don't talk on your cell while you're driving."

Riding in a car driven for the first time by one of our babies was a real rush for me. Of course I warned them about driving too fast and using the three-second rule. Especially with our youngest we had conversations like:

"Mom, you don't have to grip the door handle."

"I'm not gripping, Honey; I just have my arm there."

"Yeah, right, sure!" she laughs skeptically. Well, in my defense, it doesn't help when they say things like, "Mom, you only think I'm driving too fast because the car's so low to the ground," or "Mom, you're used to riding buses; they don't turn corners like a car. The best one was, "Dad likes my stereo turned up full blast for the bass," or the real kicker, "Dad doesn't think this is too fast."

I finally won this good-natured verbal sparring match when I said, "Don't give me that, I can hear the pitch of that engine, even over your stereo, and if it goes any higher, you've had it!" Another winning strategy is to take them to Starbucks, so you can say, "Honey, youíre jiggling my coffee, and it'll get all over your upholstery."

My husband is wonderfully understanding about showing up for church in a black Jetta girl car with Roxy stickers plastered in the back window and Hawaiian print seat covers. After all, these are his girls, and he's proud they're so competent.

7. Finally, even though you now have a licensed driver in the family, don't lose your independence. Still take those inconvenient buses when you need or want to. Working around each other's schedules and traveling together is normal with families, but becoming a prisoner to someone else's schedule compromises your independence. Enjoy the convenience a car can afford, but keep your perspective and stay independent. Your children may drive a car, but you are still the parent in charge.

Jada has now moved out, has been employed in the pizza business, and just got her first grown-up office job. Sadie is starting work at the Tacoma zoo and now drives Vivian, a í97 black Jetta GT that could be Velma's twin. We see our girls growing, thriving, bit by bit becoming more independent of us, yet I feel I'm the one who's really grown and learned a lot, helping our girls through this special phase in each of their lives. Onward and upward for all of us, including Velma and Vivian.

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