maura @ 6:58 pm
So many things were supposed to be different over the past year, big and small, and it’s hard to argue that the schedule and procedure for my kid learning how to drive isn’t on the very very small side of annoyances caused by the pandemic. But it’s different, for sure.
The original plan was that he’d learn last summer while home from college. And while he was certainly home from college, with the lockdown the DMVs were closed, with no appointments to be had for the learners permit test for much of last year. As the lockdown started to gradually lift, permit tests reappeared slowly at some though not all DMV offices. There was an online system to book appointments for tests and it was predictably awful. Appointments kept seeming to be there but then disappearing, and I kept wondering whether it would be better to just drive a few hours north to have him take the test at a DMV outside the city. But I am a rules-follower and the website said you’re supposed to take the test in your own county.
Eventually we got him an appointment at one of the DMV offices in Queens (not our own county, but close enough?). I think we made the appointment in August, and the earliest appointment we could find was for the end of October. Soon after that the Governor (ugh) said in his nightly covid update email that the state would pilot an online learners permit test. I was frustrated that there didn’t seem to be a way to register specifically for the online test, and then relieved a couple of weeks later the kid got an email with a link to sign up to take the test online. Which he did, and then at the appointment in Queens got his picture taken and learners permit issued.
Next up in learning to drive in NY is to take the 5 hour course, basically a drivers ed class.* Because pandemic those were all online, too, so he signed up for that in late November. That seemed like lots of death on the highway-style videos and rules of the road kind of stuff, also driving under the influence warnings. Not sure if they focus as much on seatbelts as they did when I took drivers ed in high school — doesn’t everyone just automatically wear seatbelts now, since we’re long past the days of bouncing around in the way back of the car?
* While high schools do offer drivers ed in NYC, because the driving age is 18 it doesn’t seem like many kids take it,** even though it’s possible to get a learners permit at 16.
** Also, not everyone has a car, and driving in the city is such a pain, who would even want to do it if they didn’t have to?
Then, finally, he was ready to take some driving lessons. Except…pandemic. The holiday caseload surge was well underway, and it was cold enough that it would have been unpleasant to be in a car with windows open.
And that, dear readers, is how I came to teach my child how to drive. Wow this was not at all what I planned — I may still be carrying some baggage from when my dad taught me how to drive a stick shift when I was 15. But it’s actually been fine! We started out in the Lowe’s and Ikea parking lots, then driving around the neighborhood where Ikea is located, and now we drive around our own and adjacent neighborhoods. A couple of weeks ago we went for a day trip to see my family and he drove between two rest stops on the highway, a bit teeth-clenching but fine, we all made it through okay.
There’ve been a few jokes about Mario Kart and Grand Theft Auto, but he’s taking it all pretty seriously. It’s occurred to me that age is probably part of the reason it’s gone so well, too. With almost two decades on this planet I think he has a much more realistic understanding of the gravity of navigating a huge hunk of metal through the streets. And learning to drive in the city is definitely hard mode, as he pointed out. Talking him through it really makes it clear just how much there is to pay attention to when driving down city streets — cars and pedestrians and bikes and wow, it’s a lot.
Last weekend we tried parallel parking, mimicking what I’ve seen a drivers ed car do: using the fire hydrant space as a practice spot. Yes, our car has power steering and a backup camera, two things I did not have as a new driver. But he blew me away with his parking skills, picked it up after only a few tries. My own parallel parking skills have kind of deteriorated lately, and it occurred to me that maybe we could come up with a practice I could use, too, aligning the lines in the backup camera with the curb to find the best spot to cut the wheel. And it worked!
With the warmer weather we decided to get him one lesson with a driving school, just to see if they have any suggestions. And he’s signed up for the road test in a little over a month, fingers crossed.