Q: Hi Abby. I recently turned 16 and got my learner’s permit. I’m really excited about learning how to drive, but I’m nervous, too; I don’t really know the rules of the road and multitasking isn’t exactly my strong suit. My dad has shown me some of the basics in parking lots and on country roads, but I feel totally unprepared to try anything else. What should I do?
Signed, Terrified of Turnpikes
A: Great question, Terrified! You couldn’t have picked a better person to ask. Seeing as I’ve had my learner’s permit for well over a year and still don’t have the confidence or hours under my belt to take my road test, and seeing as I barely made it through Driver’s Ed with a “making effort to do well” myself, I certainly have experience with being an objectively awful driver. I’ve made a lot of mistakes that I’m sure you could learn from, or repeat, whichever suits you best.
Unfortunately for you, driving is all about multitasking. If you want to navigate the roads safely, you’ll have to learn how to simultaneously control your vehicle, be aware of others around you, read road signs, maintain a reasonable speed, adapt to weather and traffic conditions, surf through radio stations, yell at the driver in front of you, and eat your Doritos Locos Tacos from the Taco Bell drive-thru before they get cold. It’s a lot to keep in mind at once, I know. That’s why you’ve got to break it down into the basics; practicing in parking lots is a great place to start learning control and spatial awareness.
However, this is only one part of the equation. You can also learn a lot about driving by just sitting in a parked car—take some time to mess around with seat and mirror settings, familiarizing yourself with the various lights, signals, and temperature controls. This is also a great time to practice one-handed eating. As far as this goes, the messier, the better. Sloppy joes, burritos, and anything that requires chopsticks are all great options.
Another big part of driving is attitude. You need to see yourself as a good (or in my case, barely competent) driver before you can become one. Or you can just convince yourself that you already know everything that you need to know and that everyone else is an idiot, which is the route we’ll be taking here. Either way, a key component of driving mentality is road rage, a nuanced skill that needs to be carefully practiced and cultivated. Every time you drive, grip the steering wheel as hard as humanly possible and glower. This will get you in the right headspace to explode at the shortest notice. Rage is also a skill that can be practiced independently of driving; you don’t even need to necessarily be in a car. In class, practice by shouting profanities or making obscene gestures at anyone who bumps your leg or coughs a bit too loudly. Start unnecessary fights in the student parking lot during your free periods just to get a taste of what it’ll be like when you’re the one stepping out of the car.
This is a lot to take in, I know. Driving, like any skill, takes time and effort to master. But if you keep practicing, and start working these foolproof tips into your everyday life, you’ll be driving around town in no time. And when that happens, maybe you could give me a ride??