How to take the wheel and drive smart

Sunday , March 04, 2018 - 12:00 AM

TX. Correspondent

Think of when you turned 16. Or, for those of you younger ones, think of that fateful birthday that is yet to come.

Turning 16 can signify a lot of things, but the biggest change? Yup, you got it. Driving.

Being able to drive yourself and others anywhere you want, whenever you want, is arguably the biggest milestone on your journey toward adulthood. The last ties of childhood have fallen away, and you finally have that freedom you have longed for! Want to go get a shake at Chick-fil-A? Done. Want to hang out at your friend’s house? You’ll be there in 10 minutes. Feel like hiking? The mountains have never been closer.

And yet oftentimes, the first time you get behind the wheel, it can be kind of freaky. Whether a parent is there or you’re going solo, it can seem like everything you were taught just flew out the window.

Who has the right-of-way at a stop sign? Can I go or do I have to wait? Hold on, that car’s not supposed to come over here … is it?

Needless to say, it can be a little scary to have all that freedom all at once. For all the hours you spent in driver’s ed and range, despite all that time reading the — let’s face it — dead boring driver’s handbook, there’s really nothing to prepare you for that first driving experience. And that’s a little terrifying.

• Learn from pros

But there must be something that can help, right? Well, besides real-life practice, the next best thing is talking to people who’ve already driven for a while. We sought out some green newbie drivers, those who’ve just received their license in the last couple of years. Why? Because teenagers remember all that stuff they wish they’d known before they sat behind the wheel the first time.

While teenagers’ advice varied — from sweet-talking a cop to parking properly — the idea was the same. Some of those basic driving skills can get a little lost in all the technical stuff you learn in driver’s ed. In my experience, while I can clearly remember reading about the whole mechanisms behind balancing the clutch and gas in a shift-stick, I couldn’t tell you when in the class I was taught about basic rights-of-way.

For example, Sariah Togisala, a Bonneville High School senior, said she never realized that even if you’re turning left, you still have right-of-way over a car stopped at a stop sign. “Left turn yields” gets so drilled into your head sometimes you forget that there are exceptions.

Another common fear is parking. Many teens wish they’d knew how to park better, especially in that nemesis of young drivers — parallel parking.

Or Savannah Ball, also a Bonneville High senior, wishes she’d learned how to pull into a parking spot backward.

One awesome tip I received from a range teacher was this: Take out your big garbage and recycling cans (preferably empty), place them in the appropriate spots, and practice parking between them like they’re cars. That way, you can practice as much as you want in a real-life manner without real-life consequences.

• Avoid distractions; stay focused 

Adults also have a lot of great tips and advice. For example, always drive the speed limit! Going faster only saves you a few minutes anyway, and you could very well get a ticket, not to mention cause an accident.

Never texting while driving is also a super important thing to remember.

“Texting is so unsafe while driving, but so is eating your lunch, doing your makeup, or changing the radio station,” Melissa Montero, a Layton parent, said. “And it’s good to know what to do if you’re in an accident, like taking pictures of both cars and exchanging insurance and calling police to get statements.”

It’s good to remember that emergency brakes or anti-lock brakes may not function (or even exist) in older cars. In that case, pumping the brakes to avoid sliding on ice is the best thing to do.

And in what is probably the biggest and least-known “car hack,” the little arrow next to the gas tank icon on your dashboard shows which side the gas cap hatch is on. Pretty useful, huh?

“I always keep some money in the car for emergencies, plus water, granola bars and a first-aid kit,” Lindsay Sevy, my sister and a parent of five children, including one soon-to-be-driver, said in a text message from her home in Taiwan.

Another big theme among teens is the advice that driving is not as scary as you think! Many believe driver’s ed classes would do better to focus less on death statistics and brainwashing you with the fact that you will probably die or be seriously maimed before you turn 18, and instead concentrate on the real purpose of the class, actual driving instruction.

• Relax and enjoy

At least a fourth of my class time was spent discussing various means of death and how likely you are to die if you ever set foot in a car. And so, some of the best advice I and other teen drivers can give to beginners is, relax! As long as you drive defensively, follow the laws and signs, and are always careful and observant of your surroundings, you can drive without constant fear of death.

On the flip side, though, it would do new drivers well to remember that not everyone will be driving as cautiously as you. There are certainly some crazy people out there, according to Austin Noar, a sophomore at Bonneville High. There’s really no way to plan for a drunk or upset or angry or reckless driver, but rest assured that many people get through life without serious car accidents.

In the end, driving can be a little scary, especially if you’re just beginning to drive by yourself. It can be hard to remember everything you were taught in class or by your parents, and sometimes you flat-out forget really, really important things.

But driving is also an amazing experience! That thrill of controlling a huge metal machine, the freedom of being able to go anywhere, anytime, is unlike anything else.

And in any case, there are a lot of people you can ask for help: your parents, your siblings, your friends, anyone! So while you should always be cautious and drive defensively, don’t think that driving is this terrifying suicide journey into the gaping jaws of death. Drive safe, drive smart — and enjoy it!

McKenzie Leininger is a sophomore at Bonneville High School who loves engineering, eating and writing. Email her at

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