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Posted on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 5 a.m.

Dad's patient instruction gave teen confidence behind wheel

By Dear Abby


Like "I'd Rather Walk in Houston" (Nov. 12), I learned to drive as a high school senior. My father taught me in a local park. As I learned to operate the car, I gained confidence, but I was still not ready for street traffic. He said I was a "slow learner," but didn't force me onto the streets. After several more rounds in the park, I was able to face traffic. Yes, I was uneasy, but having Dad in the passenger seat boosted my confidence. I drove with supervision for several months to get accustomed to the controls and learn to avoid other cars and curbs.

My solo drive was prom night. By the time I arrived at my date's home I felt as if I had showered in my tux! After the dance, miraculously, I felt relaxed and comfortable behind the wheel.

My supervised driving was a big help. Talking about safe driving and seeing videos may not have the same effect as driving with a critic in the passenger seat. -- DRIVING SINCE '59 IN CLARKSVILLE, TENN.


Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- seems to have an anecdote about their early driving experiences. My office was inundated. My newspaper readers' comments:


I also struggled with an unbearable fear of driving. I took cabs and walked, even though I had a car and a valid license. I declined invitations when they meant I would have to drive. It only got worse after I moved to a larger city.

I finally sought help and was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that manifested behind the wheel. I now take medication and have learned coping skills to handle my feelings. I am still very cautious, but I'm no longer housebound. In fact, I sometimes even enjoy taking the scenic route. I agree with you that "Rather" should see a therapist who can show her techniques to calm herself before and during trips. -- CAUTIOUS DRIVER


I had many of the same fears. I was afraid something bad would happen if I was driving alone in the car. Even though I was 18, I didn't feel old enough or responsible enough to be driving.

Once I got my license, I loved driving! If I had realized earlier what a sense of freedom and maturity getting my license would give me, I would have gotten it the day I turned 16. -- ALSO A LATE DRIVER


"Rather" has good reason to fear driving: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among U.S. teens. In 2009, about 3,000 teens ages 15 to 19 were killed and 350,000 were treated in emergency rooms. After graduation she can choose a college in an urban area with sidewalks, bicycle lanes and good public transit and minimize -- or even eliminate -- the need to drive.

People who walk are less likely to experience many health problems. They are not the ones who should consider talking to a therapist. Rather, it is those drivers who account for the 65 percent of trips under a mile that are taken by car. -- PROMOTING TRANSPORTATION SAFETY


If "Rather" wants to drive and just needs to get past the initial fear that comes along with the enormous responsibility, then your advice was on target for how to get over her insecurity. However, if she just prefers to walk, I can tell her from personal experience that a person can function just fine, especially in a large city.

I took driver's ed when I was 16 and never got comfortable driving, nor did I feel the need to get my license. I am now 33, living in a large city. I walk to my job, the grocery store and anywhere else I need to go. If I choose to venture farther, there is public transportation. I am self-sufficient. I have never yearned to have my driver's license, and I am totally comfortable being a pedestrian. -- HAPPY ON FOOT IN MILWAUKEE

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