Monthly Archives: August 2012

Driving Lessons

Somehow, my older daughter has already turned 16 and I am teaching her to drive.  We are working through the basics of how to control the car:  staying centered in the lane, managing speed through turns, interpreting various traffic signs, etc.  She is getting there, and I am confident she will master all of that soon enough.

But the larger lessons are about how to think while she is driving, her habits of mind behind the wheel.  So far we have three primary rules of the road that we come back to every time we are in the car:

Visibility and road conditions determine speed.  While road conditions are an obvious concern, VISIBILITY has been a key point of emphasis on our practice drives.  I want my daughter to know that the laws of physics aren’t impressed with ‘right of way,’ and I want her to develop a default reaction of easing up when approaching blind hills and curves.  She needs to understand that it is impossible to know whether someone–or something–might be in the road ahead, so when visibility is short it is wise to let off the gas and be prepared to brake until her sightlines are clear.

Don’t take for granted that anyone else is going to do what they should.  Despite the fact that the vast majority of people seem to characterize themselves as pretty good drivers, my own experience has made me what we might call skeptical.  So I want my daughter to adopt a ‘universal precautions’ approach behind the wheel.

We routinely talk about what another car might have done–jumping into traffic, running a light, etc.–and how she would have reacted to keep herself safe.  I have often found myself quoting my own dad, who taught me driving wisdom such as “the only thing a blinking turn signal tells you for sure is that it works.”  Much of our philosophy boils down to the words of President Reagan:  “Trust, but verify.”

Distractions are a driver’s greatest enemy.  Consider:

  • A recent article in the Washington Post cites a study indicating that beyond teen drivers being the age group most likely to have a FATAL accident, the probability increases by 50% with one teen passenger, by a full 100% with two teen passengers, and by 300% with three or more teen passengers.
  • A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute, cited in a CNET article, explains that drivers are no less likely to have accidents using hands-free phones than using handheld models.
  • Personally, I  have had one accident that was my fault.  When I was a college student, I looked down to change the radio station as the driver in front of me locked his breaks, and I could not quite stop in time–’nuff said.

So limiting distractions will be a high priority–and something of a challenge given the lifestyles of teenagers and the prevalence of electronic communication.

Once my daughter is driving solo, she will have to stay solo for a while, avoiding the temptation and the peer pressure to take one of her friends with her–until she builds up experience & expertise–and we will talk about strategies for safe cell phone use.  Fortunately, she is earning her license in a different era than I did, as new drivers in our state are required to have their learner’s permits for almost a year and they must log a minimum number of hours before even applying for the actual license.  Over the last 30 years, the state has become more cautious and purposeful in licensing drivers….which matches perfectly with our plan for all three of our kids.



Filed under Safety

Just Time Away, or Time Off?

Our main trip of the summer this year was, in many ways, one of our all-time simplest:  No passports.  No airlines.  No complicated series of hotel reservations.  No list of sights to see.  Instead, we opted for a 4-hour drive to Ocean City, Maryland, and a week in an oceanfront condo.  The goal for the week:  Relax.

Reflecting upon a good week of family time, I see several decisions that helped with the Relax goal and that I’ll carry forward as a contract with myself for our next big trip:

The I-Word.  Consider, if you will:

  • My wife’s work is heavily reliant upon the internet, and some of her deadlines do not flex around vacations.
  • The school system which provides my own gainful employment–allowing for luxuries such as vacations, food, and a roof over our heads–expects me to be reasonably responsive to email contacts, even when I am on leave.
  • I also have another [absolutely not gainful] pursuit:  this blog.

We did decide to pay for an available wi-fi service, but we chose to buy access for only one device at a time.  Mrs. DKB carved out the time she needed for her work, and I managed to leave her laptop alone all week.  Sure, I checked Twitter/Facebook/etc. on my phone throughout the week, but for fun–not because I had to.

Breaking with tradition, I limited my work email to a maximum of a quick check in the morning and another in the late afternoon, and I triaged new messages into ‘no worries until sometime next week,’ ‘flagged for priority when we get home,’ and ‘respond today’–which only applied to the absolute musts that my ‘out-of-office’ auto-reply could not defer.  Out of dozens of messages, remarkably only one made the cut for an immediate reply.

My blog sat idle all week.  Since I do not have thousands of visitors per day…yet?…the internet seems to have continued on without noticing; but I am extremely hopeful that the same people who would have read this new post last week will read it now.

Honor The Traditions.  We have visited this beach town many times, sometimes for a full week, and sometimes for a long weekend.  My wife and I even went there pre-kids, sometimes in the middle of winter.  So we have picked up many traditions over 20+ years:  a particular family-run ice cream shop; sand castle construction; the boogie board; a favorite pizza place; volleyball; ‘scopes’ pictures on the beach; dinner at a restaurant with tables on the sand, a few feet from baywater; the ever-popular mini-golf; trying to get a kite in the air; whatever book one of us might have been “saving for the beach”;…and the list goes on.

During the week, we managed to work in everything on everyone’s “But we always ____!” list except for the mini-golf–which I can rectify at a ‘course’ nearby now that we are home.

Ease Up on the Penny Pinching.  I’m not afraid to spend money on family fun, but I like to save where I can.  If something we use is available at Costco, the 6-month supply size is my first choice, preferably during a month when that product is in the coupon book.  If we are headed to an amusement park, it is a point of pride for me to find a discount code.  Before many vacations I have been known to scour the internet for weeks to secure the next-to-impossible hotel rate or airfare.  But once we’re “on the ground” for a vacation, I’ve found that fewer members of my family want to hurt me if I back off a little on the money front.

In my own mind, we freed up more money this year for meals and snacks by outfitting the condo with groceries.  Everyone enjoyed both sides of that equation:  We had some menu food, but we also had a hot, homemade breakfast in the apartment each morning and beach-friendly lunches in a cooler under the umbrella most days.  Still, meals are only one type of expense, which leads me to…

Empower the Kids to Spend Their Own Money.  Our kids have an outstanding income source:  their grandparents.  Whenever we are headed out of town, both grandfathers like to present each child with some spending money.  So souvenirs, trips to the candy shop, etc.–anything that one of the kids wants but that is not part of meals or full-family activities–are their own purchases.

It’s amazing how much more frugal and savvy a 9, 13, or 16 year old becomes when the money is coming from his or her own wallet.

Don’t Overload (or allow others to overload) Our Schedule  As a family, we are skilled enough at over-committing ourselves, but when traveling with others it is that much easier for the vacation to become busier than regular life at home.  And on this trip we were staying in the same building as my wife’s parents and her sister’s family.

We spent plenty of time with grandparents, aunt & uncle, and cousins during the week, but we also preserved our own family time.  We opted out of a few early dinners (the norm for all of the in-laws) to stay on the beach well after the lifeguards had left for the day–We enjoy that.  It’s more peaceful and quite a bit cooler with the sun dropping behind the condo, some of our favorite beach time.  Instead of joining the relatives in the evening, we stayed in for a quiet dinner for 5 and the Olympics on TV.

It’s telling that our 13 year old commented as we left for home that “it was nice not to be rushing to get to reservations every night this year.”  Mouths of babes?

So It’s a Deal.  My goal for our next vacation is to keep the “off” in “time off” and to remember the trite “working vacation” oxymoron….which reminds me of the time I used the term oxymoron in an English classroom and one of my students actually raised his hand to ask, “Did you just call someone in here a dumb cow?”  But that’s a story for another time.

Note:  To be clear, the opinions expressed in this post are my own.  DadKnowsBetter has not been compensated, encouraged, or otherwise influenced to mention or promote any place, business, or activity in this post.  Neither have I been coerced or threatened not to mention our extended family–yet.


Filed under Living Well, Places to Go, Vacation & Travel