How's My Driving? Call Dad with Your Compliments

Tom Bodett

Tom Bodett | Aug 05, 2012

There was a story on Morning Edition the other day about a new philosophy in driver’s education for young people. Developed by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance, it’s called Celebrate My Drive, and insists that accentuating the positives of safe driving for students and eliminating the negatives will turn out happier, better drivers.

As an indulgent parent I get the Dr. Spockish appeal of the idea, but I’m more Mr. Spockish when it comes to the warped logic that puts three thousand pounds of over-powered machinery into the hands of idiot children. (Note to my children: As I’ve told you many times, you are not actual idiots, you only act like them. The difference is subtle but important to your overall sense of self-esteem and crap like that.)

Having taught one teenaged boy to drive a decade ago and survived the darkness, terror and lawsuits that followed, I feel I can say with some authority that there is little to celebrate about teenagers behind the wheel. My older son is now a competent and incident-free twenty-something driver, but he didn’t get there with praise. He got there with fender benders, side-swipes, neck injury inducing rear enders, escalating insurance rates, and the utter fear of being deprived of his wheels by a distraught and raging father. The positives? Nobody died. And he drove himself to school.

I'm sure your allowance will cover this damage!

Over the course of the next decade I will be teaching two more teenage boys to drive. I am a better parent than I was for my older boy, who I refer to as my beta child. He’s almost forgiven me for my lack of patience, focus and that time I pretended to be a bear in the woods on a camping trip. So I probably will be a gentler and more supportive driver training instructor this time around. I may even try to include some of this positive energy philosophy into my program.

For example, instead of jamming both feet into the passenger-side firewall and screaming, “Judas H. bald-headed Priest, that’s a red light! Are you trying to get us killed?” I could calmly touch the boy’s arm and say, “I see you enjoy challenging the recommended speeds for approaching an intersection. Should we, however, skid through that red light and be killed? Your mother, who loves us both very much, might wish you’d tried an alternative speed. So SLOW THE F--- DOWN!”

I remember my own driver’s training classes one long ago summer filled with the drone of a teacher supplementing his income by instructing a group of knuckleheaded fifteen-year-olds on the finer points of highway safety and parallel parking. I’ve retained exactly two things from it: Don’t pull in front of a car while passing until you can see it fully in your rearview mirror, and if you drive badly your spleen will end up as a hood ornament.

We saw a lot of entrails in the safety films.  As restrained as they seem now, we’d never seen guts before on film. Not even fake ones. I’ll never forget one film where the driver’s head was in the backseat of his car and his passenger was in the front seat of the car he’d run into. There was part of an intestine hanging from a door handle. I got the message.


I don’t know if they still show these kinds of films, but I’m quite sure they wouldn’t have the same impact on today’s gore-tolerant, flesh-eating-zombie fetishist teens. I’ve seen better movie gore in the years since my driver's ed films than the real deal stuff. But as cheesy and overwrought as they were in every other way -- the images were indelible. Trust me, there’s a reason I haven’t had a moving violation in over 35 years and it isn’t because people threw parties for my driving abilities. But that was then.

It just occurred to me why educators and insurance providers are leaning toward the praise and celebration of driving and away from the fear and punishment -- inspired self-interest.  Number one, you can’t scare kids anymore.  They see vampires ripping people’s necks open before breakfast and splatter walking dead Nazis across their game screens between classes.  And punishing them by taking away their driving privileges penalizes the parent as much as the kid. As I said, the only positive aspect of my first teen learning to drive was watching him steer his own sorry, late self down the driveway to school. Punishing them by taking away their gaming and Facebook liberties will only make them want to drive more.

I guess I can get on board with Celebrate My Drive after all. I am going to be the positive nucleus to my boys’ negative driving electron.

Back over the trash cans? “At least it wasn’t your brother”.

Caved in the rear door again? “You know it’s been nice getting to know Hal at the body shop. We should have him to dinner.”

Served papers by those lawyers you see on the billboards? “Pain and suffering is a relative term, son. And this will give you the opportunity to participate more fully in your education seeing as the damages just wiped out your college fund. Let’s celebrate!”


What do you think? Can you get on board with the new politically and scientifically-correct era of "Celebrate My Drive"? How did you learn to drive-- and if you've taught a kid to drive, what was it like? Have you disinherited each other? Share your stories in a discussion going on right now, over in the Car Talk Community!

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