Seasoned drivers make the roads scary for young drivers dad

(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. Barry Albertson is the parent of a new driver and a member of the Tigard-Tualatin School Board.)

This summer was a memorable one for me for several reasons, but one in particular stands out - I was reacquainted with the essentials and nuances of driving an automobile, all this compliments of my oldest son, Matthew. He, along with nearly 100 other district students, completed his formal driver's education course at Tualatin High.

For those of you who have been away from, or have simply forgotten about, this particular academic and social exercise, today's driver's ed classes are composed of 30 or more hours of classroom lectures, 12 hours of 'being in the backseat' observing their friends drive with an instructor, and nine 45-minute sessions of actual 'you're the man' behind-the-wheel driving experience. This is then topped off with a minimum of 50 additional hours of driving with 'mom and/or dad.'

Our school district's classes were taught by a group of award-winning driver's ed teachers (really, like Ron Dyer, 2006 National Driver's Ed Teacher of the Year Rich Hanson, Mark Dolbeer, Linda Mazur and Tom Duggan, along with nearly two dozen actual driving instructors culled from many of our district schools) who were firm, supportive, understanding and, as usual, simply outstanding.

We parents car-pooled groups of four kids back and forth from home to Tualatin High for about four weeks. Our batch of students elected to take the morning class that started promptly at 7 a.m. And, here, the word 'promptly' carried with it a special meaning - kids who staggered into the classroom even one second late paid their dues by singing (a song of their choice, but a cappella) in front of the entire class. Our group, Kelly, Ariel, Callie and Matt, did get a chance to sing for their friends once or twice, but, outside of that, they really made the opening bell with remarkable ease and at a very high level of consciousness.

Through July and August, my son and all of his friends drove pretty slowly and very cautiously while they were learning the ropes. To me this was and is a good thing, because regardless of how slowly they may drive now while they're learning, they'll soon enough be driving faster and faster. And I've learned a few important bits of information from Matt, like making sure I can see all of the tires (from bumper to road surface) of the car in front of me when I'm stopped at a traffic signal or stop sign.

Through all of this, though, the most challenging and rigorous episodes for me came when I took my son out on the roads to drive and got the chance to critically watch other drivers and their driving habits, even more than I do when I'm driving alone. And, unfortunately, I witnessed some pretty scary stuff in other 'seasoned and more experienced' drivers while I was out there with him riding shotgun.

Here are four that made my 'Geez Louise' list:

n Young drivers try to abide by the '4-second rule' when they drive - to keep a safe and comfortable distance between their car and the vehicle in front of them (we called it the one-car-length-per-10-mph-rule back in the late 50s). And, these new drivers actually try to drive at the posted speed limit in and around Tigard and Tualatin. As such, they shouldn't be acknowledged by tailgating, high beam headlight flickering, horn honking or obscene gestures.

n If you're driving on a two- or four-lane road and there are bikers or joggers alongside your lane, don't simply swerve over into the adjacent or approaching lane compromising any oncoming drivers' safety. Try this idea out - hop on the binders and slow down, and wait until the area on your left is clear.

n You don't have to swing wide anymore to make a standard 90-degree turn. That really scares the bejeebers out of unsuspecting drivers (old and new) along side you. Remember, you probably have 'power steering,' invented just for this reason.

n The fact that you want to change lanes and you've flipped on your turn signal does not, in and of itself, mean there is sufficient room for you to do so. Next time you have this need or desire you might consider looking around to see if there actually is space for you to make this maneuver. If not, just cool your jets for a few seconds, slow down and wait. Someone will almost certainly let you in, safely. Honest.

So, I guess I'll make it through all this driver's ed stuff, and having a new driver in the house. It'll be a good thing when Matt can run errands for mom and dad and needs to get to Tualatin High for any number of academic and social events. But I'll worry about him just the same. And I'm pretty sure that all of these young students will eventually get their licenses and join me and all of you out there on our roads and highways.

But do me a favor: Give these kids, these new, young drivers a break, a chance, before they become jaded and start driving offensively like some of you out there. These kids are really trying hard to drive correctly, responsibly and safely.

And I, for one, want them to be able to make it on the roads - survive, finish high school and then live the rest of their lives uninjured, unhurt, safe and happy, especially these days when more and more driving a motor vehicle on our highways has become a very dangerous and unforgiving venture.

And one more thing - remember that one of those new drivers out there is my son.