Name: Millicent Moreland
From: Winter Park, Florida
The Many Joys of Ignorant Driving
Before you read this essay, I do want to stress that I still love my parents (mostly). However, their mistakes are vital to this essay and therefore will be mentioned many times. I have not forgiven them yet. This essay is very long, but every word is important.
There is no better way for me to stress the importance of driver education than by telling the story of how I totaled my Jeep on the day of freshman orientation for college while driving on one of the most dangerous highways in the United States. The school year hadn’t even started yet. Orientation was where I could create a good foundation to get settled in a place I have never been before. It’s where I could meet friends to rely on during the year when going through uncertainty. This got ripped away from me, along with my freedom to go where I wanted and do what I needed to.
Driving has been scary for me, and I am currently taking a very long break from it. There are a lot of things I wish I could change about my experience. Many of the issues I have could’ve been prevented with proper education and preparation.
I started learning how to drive during Covid. I took the free online class that was required by my school. It was very easy, and honestly, I don’t believe I learned much from it. It wasn’t very in-depth. Nonetheless, I was able to take the writing portion of my driver’s test online right after I finished the course. I passed easily when I shouldn’t of. I wish the class was in person so I could be monitored and mentally digest the information easier. It is much more motivating when there are tangible goals to reach.
My dad is the one who taught me how to drive. I didn’t have any better options available. My dad had stopped driving because his injured back made it impossible for him to focus and stay safe. He would dart in and out of traffic due to his pain, rushing to get home and driving recklessly. I was often terrified in the backseat with my sister. He is now permanently disabled, so he passed his car onto me.
We started in my high school parking lot, where I felt very self-conscious as sports teams were there practicing for the summer, and summer school was in session. I tried to slowly drive around the parking lot and then park in different spaces, often getting yelled at for making small mistakes. I had to dodge other cars who were trying to exit despite never being in the driver’s seat before. My dad was not very calm, patient, or understanding. My sister and mom refused to get in the car with me because they were scared (they called me overconfident and were afraid of getting hurt). I had no one else to teach me except for my grumpy, disabled dad. Practicing started to give me lots of anxiety, and I tried to get out of it when I could. As we progressed and I got better at driving, my mom still refused to get in the car with me as she was worried I would crash. My sister let me drive in her car and was slightly more patient than my dad (but still not very patient overall). Understandably, she was worried about me hurting her car and yelled at me often. When I say “yelled,” in the context of both my dad and sister, this really meant screamed at and then degraded for five minutes straight.
Later, when I was able to drive on roads, I got roped into constantly running errands for my dad, as he wanted to get things done and couldn’t drive. We would spend hours every afternoon running into unnecessary stores and picking up unnecessary food. The average day included grocery shopping, getting fast food, going to a store, and picking up prescriptions at Walgreens. This sounds normal until you realize it was done every single day. I was going to the grocery every other day, only picking up a few items at a time. I had four hours sucked out of my afternoons for five days a week. It didn’t feel like I was getting practice anymore, I was simply turning into a slave to get errands done. I ended up going to therapy to try to solve this issue. The excuse from my parents was that they were afraid to ask my sister to help because she often got very angry and would tell them “No”. So, instead, they constantly asked me instead of finding a compromise. My therapist was disgusted at this answer.
Despite all the “practice”, I wasn’t prepared in the way I should’ve been. I barely drove at night and in bad weather. I also never got a chance to drive alone. I didn’t feel safe driving alone, and my parents would always tell me “You can go out on your own time.” There was no real push for me to attempt to learn. I wish I had a parent go with me and then get out of the car and watch me drive around the parking lot, so I still had someone around if something went wrong. After that, I would probably feel safer driving on backroads alone. I also only went on the highway a few times, never going alone. I didn’t know my way around well, and barely knew how to look at a GPS and drive at the same time. I didn’t know how to deal with aggressive drivers or unfamiliar places.
Two weeks prior to orientation, and having only the experience listed, I took my driver’s test. It’s a miracle that I passed. I wish I hadn’t, though I know I would’ve gotten yelled at. I didn’t feel ready but took it regardless. I didn’t look over my shoulder when I backed up, and I spent about 10 minutes guessing where the emergency break was. I heard of the term but didn’t know where it was or how to use it. I could steer, brake, and park fine, but I didn’t know basic things like where the hazards were. I saw the concern on my proctor’s face, yet still, I passed (barely).
My entire driving practice was full of warning signs that I didn’t even know were there. I didn’t know there was anything wrong with my education because I didn’t know better. I thought the feelings of anxiety and not being ready were normal. I thought the yelling and anger were normal.
The plan for college was that I would commute every day. My sister and I were accepted to the same college, Rollins. Our class schedules were different, so we weren’t going to drive together on the days that we had big gaps in time. We lived only 30 minutes away, so we were close to school. This meant I could go home if I was done at 1:00 and her class was done at 4:00 instead of waiting. Commuting was cheaper than having a room on campus, even if it meant we didn’t get to be as social. This is one of the things that allowed us to afford the tuition of going to such a prestigious private college.
The night before orientation, my parents and sister were very grumpy. My sister wasn’t very excited about driving me because she thought it was a hassle. I understood her point of view, as she was going out of her way to drive me when she didn’t have class and would be driving back and forth multiple times. My mom also didn’t want to drive me. She is often angry/upset due to work. My dad wasn’t able to drive me because of his disability. I watched the three of them go back and forth as they tried to decide who got the burden of driving me. I felt guilty and frustrated, so I told them I would drive alone. My mom second-guessed me and asked if I was sure but allowed me anyways.
I felt like it was a stupid idea, but I decided I would rather struggle on the way to school than deal with getting yelled at for being a burden. To recap: I had never driven alone, I had only been on the highway a few times, I didn’t know my way to school, I didn’t know how to easily follow the GPS on my phone, I didn’t know the basics of a car, and I had just gotten my driver’s license two weeks prior. I didn’t even know what things I didn’t know. It’s funny what decisions you make when you are under stress and in a bad, unsupportive environment.
I set off in my Jeep at about 7:30 AM. At first, everything was fine, as I was driving along the roads I knew well. I didn’t know it was rush hour, so there was a lot of traffic. I stayed in my lane and did fine, despite missing a few exits on my GPS. I rushed a little as I was trying to get to school on time and hadn’t accounted for traffic. My commute to school included the highway I-4, which I had never driven on and is notorious for being dangerous. According to radio station Sunny 106.3, as of 2023, it is the 3rd most dangerous highway in the United States.
I would like to take a moment to emphasize that my mom allowed me to drive alone for the first time ever on the 3rd most dangerous highway in the United States.
The sun was directly in my eyes, and I could barely see, even with sunglasses. I was too short for my seat and couldn’t see over the dashboard well. The visor barely covered the sun for me.
I was coming off one exit onto another highway. I didn’t see that the cars in front of me were stopped, and I didn’t see brake lights. When the cars were in my view and I could see, it was too late. I slammed into the back of a pickup truck. I had absolutely no idea what to do whatsoever. I wasn’t told what to do if I got into a crash. I pulled over to the left instead of the right. The pickup truck pulled over to the right. I took a breath and called 911.
“Where are you at,” asked the operator.
“I have no idea,” I measly said to her.
“Is the driver of the truck okay?”
“I don’t know because he’s on the other side of the road.”
I didn’t know the answers to any of her questions and felt very stupid. She tracked my phone and found where I was and sent emergency vehicles my way. I texted my parents and naturally, they freaked out. They called me and yelled at me for ten minutes.
It took a very long time for the police and fire trucks to come. I felt judged by all the cars that passed by me, as I was right by the fast lane. The hood of my car was smoking. I watched a policeman come by and move the giant debris from my car out of the road. I was very annoyed that he didn’t check on me, just did his job and continued like nothing happened. It really emphasized that I was alone in this.
Finally, the firemen came. They blocked off the road. I was hysterical and refused to drive, so a nice fireman drove my car to the other side of the road for me. I was completely fine, and the truck had a scratch but looked unscathed. I was told to wait and turn off the car since I was nervous about the smoke.
I got permission to check on the driver of the truck. It was a middle-aged man on his way to work, and he was fine. I bawled my eyes out to him and said I was sorry. He said everything was okay, and it was obvious he felt bad for me. I got his number and again texted him I was sorry as I bawled in my car. I asked questions I didn’t know I shouldn’t have asked (like “Is this my fault?”), and he didn’t directly answer. I think he handled it well. I’m glad he was okay considering he did nothing wrong.
The police came up to my car and asked for my information. I had no idea what he was even asking. I didn’t know what or where my registration was, and I didn’t know what my insurance was. I just told him my mom was on the way and to wait for her. He asked me questions about the crash, and I watched him mark “reckless driving” on his paper. That didn’t help my anxiety.
My mom finally came to save me. I was sitting in the passenger seat instead of the driver’s seat because I felt like it was safer, and I was parked close to the divider, so there was no room to open the door. The first thing she said to me was “They’re going to sue us!” That was very unsupportive. I still hold a grudge against her for it.
I didn’t take pictures of my car because I didn’t know I was supposed to. I hadn’t even looked at the damage because I was too concerned about other things. My mom took pictures and showed me that the front of my Jeep was completely smashed in. Given what I saw, I was surprised the airbag didn’t go off and that I didn’t have any injuries. Based on the picture alone, I would’ve expected myself to be a bloody, broken mess.
I didn’t know I was supposed to call my insurance company and get a tow truck. There was already a company truck there, and they took my car away. My mom had the audacity to ask if I still wanted to go to orientation.
The next few days, I was physically with my family, but mentally alone. I was repeatedly told by every member, “This is completely your fault!” Yes, in terms of the law, it was absolutely my fault. However, in my heart, I blamed my family for not preparing me and stopping me when they knew better. It was completely their fault. I spent more time in therapy talking about it. The good news is that I didn’t have to run errands anymore. My family constantly reprimanded me for the crash for months.
Thankfully, no charges were pressed. The man went to the hospital for whiplash but was fine. My sister drove me to school for that semester and I now have a dorm at school. I haven’t driven since and am going to take a course to learn this summer. That was two years ago and I still do not have a car. I probably won’t get one soon.
Overall, there are so many things wrong with my driving experience that I can’t even count them. I am still very mad about it and will probably be mad for most of my life. I’m glad there are organizations out there like dmvedu.org to help keep this situation from happening to others.
From what I know, many car-related deaths are from little mistakes that can be fixed. Sometimes we get too comfortable driving and forget to be careful. Maybe we get too confident and think nothing can go wrong. We forget little things like staying off our phone, pulling over to the right after a crash, or where the emergency brake is. Taking an online driving course every 5 years would be very beneficial to brush up on these little avoidable mistakes. It would help fill in the cracks for those of us who didn’t get a proper education. One topic that must be included is the emotional aspects of driving, like attitudes and keeping calm, both for the driver and passengers. Many people may groan at the thought of repeating a driver’s course, but there are often incentives like insurance reductions and points taken off licenses.
In my opinion, the best driving courses are offered in person. Even though online courses may be more accessible, hands-on courses are much more beneficial. As someone who was recently diagnosed with ADHD, I do very poorly with classes online, since I struggle to focus and retain information. The mandatory classes that young, upcoming drivers take need to be hands-on and in-person. Driving is dangerous, so driving education needs to be serious and thorough. It is much more motivating to have classes in person and see tangible results. Every aspect of driving should be covered, even the parts that appear on a written test. These include what you do when you crash, where hazards are, safety features, defensive driving, and what to do if you are stuck on the side of the road. These classes are usually free. In-person classes are also helpful in the way that they can offer knowledge about the specific car that is being driven, like how easily it can flip.
Online courses and in-person courses can be combined to give the best information. Your instructor can follow the online course and teach using the information there instead of creating a lesson plan themselves.
Something very important to note is who is giving the information. Relying on parents to teach their children how to drive is a horrible idea, as stated earlier. People who are calm and knowledgeable are ideal to teach these courses. Drivers need to feel comfortable with the person they are with in the car. Some ideal teachers to look for are paramedics, firemen, highway patrols, police officers, or even just people who are very interested in cars. People who spend lots of time on the road and have seen the dangers of driving firsthand are best at teaching how to avoid them. They have seen everything, and therefore know what to look out for.
One interesting idea is to find or make an obstacle course to drive through in a large parking lot. Drivers can go through the course if they wish to practice for their upcoming tests, or even just brush up on their skills.
I understand this may not be possible, but it’s very beneficial if driving courses are offered through schools. If driving was a class offered at my high school, or there even was an afterschool club I could attend, I would be much more inclined to learn. This makes it possible to have an accessible, hands-on education. Some other places could be churches or large businesses. If you have classes offered near you, I would take full advantage of them. If not, maybe ask some people around you if they would be willing to teach you.
The biggest step that I and other drivers can take to be safer is to constantly learn new things. Even if a driver is experienced and has been driving for years, they do not know everything. Even as “experienced” drivers, my parents didn’t know the importance of staying calm while I was driving. They still get nervous driving in hazardous weather and forget what all the letters on the gear do. They also have a tendency to forget how to turn on their wipers and their headlights. My sister gets anxious with arrow lights and doesn’t know when high beams are acceptable. There is always something new to learn to make drivers more well-rounded.
The number one thing I would change with my driving experience is where I got my education from. Having a safer and more reliable environment to learn in would have made a huge difference and saved me from going through a lot of difficulties. Driving is a huge part of the average person’s life, and there is no way to avoid it. It is a dangerous task that many of us complete multiple times every day of our lives. Therefore, the best thing we can do is thoroughly educate ourselves about it and prepare for it.
Also, please be nicer to your children.