Dear Tom and Ray:
So, my 19-year-old daughter will not get her driver's license. She has taken the test and failed "maneuverability" (parallel parking). So far this hasn't been that big of an issue because at college she can get someone else to drive her places, walk or ride her bike. She attends school only an hour from home, so it isn't a big deal to come get her for a weekend or drive her back. However, this summer we are moving to England, and she is going to have to get her license in order to be able to get around. I would like to get her a small car (that way, she might pass the parallel-parking portion) that is safe (in case she is in an accident) and that is reliable. Can you give me some suggestions?
TOM: Tell her not to feel bad, Lari. Our sister has been driving for 40 years and, several times a day, she still fails the parallel-parking test.
RAY: There are two schools of parenting thought, Lari. And they're well represented by me and my brother.
TOM: Right. I would say, at age 19 or 20, let "not driving" be her problem. Let necessity create the motivation for her, or not.
RAY: That school of parenting would say she's an adult now, and if she doesn't want to learn how to parallel park and get her license, then when you're gone, she can figure out how to get herself around. Or stay in one place.
TOM: Right. Not your problem. She'll figure it out.
RAY: And then there's my school of parenting. As compared with my brother's approach, I would call it the parenting-oriented school of parenting!
TOM: OK, sure.
RAY: You and I are on the same page, here, Lari. I agree that you should help your daughter avoid boundaries that may limit her options later in life. So the question becomes: How can you best help her get her license?
TOM: One approach is to try a non-parental driving instructor. Learning to drive can be very stressful, and having a parent, who is already on your case for everything, sitting next to you and panicking every time you twitch your right foot can make learning even harder.
RAY: So if driving lessons tend to be stressful for the two of you (i.e., if either of you has ever left the vehicle while it was still moving, slammed the door and walked home), consider finding a reputable driving instructor and hiring him or her to give your daughter some lessons.
TOM: Another thing you can do is help her find a car that she likes and feels comfortable in. You'll have to include her in the process, and do some car shopping with her and see what she feels is manageable or "cute," rather than intimidating.
RAY: If you're buying a new car, or a recent-vintage car, almost any of them will be relatively safe. They all have lots of air bags and stability control, and are far more protective of the occupants in a crash than older cars were. They're more reliable, too.
TOM: So one distinguishing characteristic I'd look for, in addition to size, is good visibility. We find that one of the greatest challenges new drivers (and the rest of us) face is not being able to tell where the edges of the car are. That problem has increased dramatically over the past decade as high trunks have come into fashion.
RAY: You're talking about cars, right?
TOM: One car we like for its visibility is the Subaru Forrester, which has large windows and a relatively boxy shape. That makes it pretty easy to see out of and maneuver. The idea is, you want her to at least be able to see the garbage cans before she backs over them.
RAY: The other advantage of something like a Forrester is that it's got all-wheel drive, which will be a great advantage in the winter if she's living in the snow belt.
TOM: Some other cars you might look at are a Honda Fit, Civic or CR-V, a VW Golf or a Subaru Impreza. But you're going to have to go sit in some cars with her to see what makes her feel calm and in control behind the wheel.
RAY: And hopefully, once she has a car she feels in control of and a teacher who didn't potty-train her, she'll be able to take the next step and get her driver's license.
TOM: And then, instead of worrying about her ability to get herself around while you're in England, you can worry about where the heck she is all the time. Good luck, Lari!