If you’ve ever been in the backseat when your younger sibling learns to drive for the first time, you know what it feels like to be in an alternate universe. You’re simultaneously reliving the excitement and nerves that come with getting behind the wheel while experiencing the panic and frustration that come with witnessing a brand-new driver in the family. You feel young and old at the same time, but you mostly feel old. And you can’t help but wonder if you were that bad of a driver at 16.
Over spring break, I had this exact experience. I sat in the backseat of my mom’s car as my sister navigated the pothole-filled roads on the way to the gym. With my hands folded tightly in my lap, I refrained from sitting back and continually glanced from the speedometer to the road. To be completely honest, I was a nervous wreck as she attempted to make a left at a busy intersection. I wanted to tell her to speed up, to slow down, to put her blinker on sooner. I knew if I voiced any of my backseat driver opinions, I’d be slammed for my own driving habits.
I’m a completely different driver than I was when I received my license. I drove at least ten miles per hour under the speed limit, was scared to death of merging onto highways and refused to parallel park after the driver’s test. My worst mistake of all was backing straight into my mailbox and off a curb, then proceeding to damage the entire front end of the car (and this event occurred only a few days after I barely passed the driver’s test). Let’s just say I had to review how to back out of my driveway before I could drive by myself again.
And while my family still makes fun of my driving skills, I’ve learned to adhere to the speed limit and merge onto seven-lane California highways at rush hour. I’m pretty sure I still haven’t parallel parked since the day I took my driver’s test, but I can pull into a cramped spot without having to straighten myself out (too much, anyway). On the flip side, sometimes I beep my horn too much and pump the brakes with too much force. I’m not a perfect driver by any means, but I believe I’ve improved dramatically since the day I vowed never to crash into another mailbox again.
As I sat in the backseat listening to my dad giving my sister stern instructions, I couldn’t help but think about how much patience and courage it takes to be a driving instructor. I’m sure I made my numerous instructors pretty nervous, but at least I didn’t drive into the DMV during my test. I don’t think I’d ever live that down.
Contact Emily Schmidt at egs1997 ‘at’ stanford.edu.