Student drivers need you

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

By Bill Theobald

JOLIET, Ill. -- A small sign, barely visible, in the back window of the family car is all that signals other drivers to beware there is a student driver at the wheel. What most people do not know, however, is that most student drivers are being taught by student teachers: parents.

Just because you have been driving for several years does not make you qualified to teach others, especially if it's your offspring. When was the last time most parents read "Rules of the Road"? How about the last time you took a driving test? Have any parents recently attended a driver train-the-trainer seminar? The answer to these questions would scare the premiums out of most auto insurance companies.

Yet in an effort to save money, school districts all around our area are relying on parents for almost all of the on-the-road training of our young teenagers. So now you have anxious kids instructed by terrified parents who don't have an extra brake or steering wheel on their side of the car if something goes wrong.

Gone are the driving simulators and range cones we used at Joliet Central, where I learned to drive. Wave goodbye to the country roads where a young driver could get the feel of staying in his own lane while increasing speed ever so slightly. Have you fought your way through Highway 59 and Caton Farm Road lately? That's where these young drivers are learning.

But there's that little "Student Driver" sign in the back window to ward off tailgaters and inconsiderate drivers, right? Not so. Even if other drivers could read the little sign, it seems people really don't care. They honk the horn, pass you in a no-passing zone, express their IQ in terms of their middle finger and plainly show these kids how inconsiderate and dangerous it is to be out there on the open road.

Not only are the parents responsible, but so is every other driver on the road. When you don't use your turn signal, what kind of signal are you giving these young student drivers?

On just a short trip to the store, you see terrible drivers tailgating, speeding, running yellow lights or not paying attention because they are too busy using the phone. A guy passed me on I-55 the other day without signaling as he changed lanes -- hard to do when you're busy shaving. Some people even read while driving -- why couldn't they comprehend traffic laws?

Recently a friend of mine was hit from behind while stopped at a red light. The other driver got out of her car blaming my friend for not moving the instant the light turned green, because she tried to time the lights. My friend then told the woman how awkward she looked with makeup on only one eye.

It's hard to teach my young daughter that driving is a privilege when she sees so many experienced drivers out there taking your life in their hands. They drive any way they want and consider driving to be a right. It's not. Stop it. My daughter is on the road. So are my wife and I and our neighbors trying to teach young students the right way to drive.

Illinois and many other states have strict laws and heavy penalties for driving around school buses and driving too fast in construction zones. New laws should be passed for acting like idiots in the presence of student drivers.

Bill Theobald, a chemical manufacturing specialist, lives in Plainfield, Ill. This guest column was published Aug. 1 in The Herald News. Bill is the brother of Margie Theobald of Cape Girardeau.

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