Rules of the Road

When you are teaching your child to drive, it’s easy to cover the basics. Stop behind the line. Signal before changing lanes. Look over your left shoulder to check your blind spot. Accelerate to the highway speed before merging onto the highway. Please, oh please! Always do that. And God forbid, don’t slow down until after exiting the highway.

What’s harder are the unexpected situations.

Like encountering a driver traveling the wrong way on the road you are on. That happened recently while I was on my way to pick Daryl up so I made a mental note and used it as an object lesson later on why you have to always pay attention.

Like getting pulled over by the police. Who is ever ready for that? We thought it happened to us recently. I had directed him onto a road after the one we were on became one-way in the opposite direction. Shortly after we turned, sirens started up. We stopped at the stop sign and then the flashing lights came right up behind us.

“Just stay put,” I told him, expecting the officer to go around us. Our street was one-way and we were in the left lane. The road in front of us was one-way as well, traveling from right to left. I guess the officer expected us to go ahead and turn left into some nearby parking spots because he paused behind us. Just long enough for me to draw the conclusion that we were being pulled over.

Just as I began to tell my son where to move, the officer went around us. What a relief. And now my son knows that panicky feeling of being pulled over. Maybe his first real time (you know it’s going to happen), he won’t be quite as freaked out.

Then there’s the matter of stranded motorists. Do you stop to help or not? If you do, do you give them a ride or go get what they need for them? I don’t recall talking to Jane about that 3 years ago when she was learning to drive but she handled it beautifully when it happened recently.

She was traveling into town to pick up Daryl from football practice when she saw a woman standing next to her car trying to wave people down. Jane didn’t stop and she saw the woman’s hands drop down to her sides. She was obviously exasperated that no one was stopping to help her on a section of interstate with no signs of habitation, no businesses nearby.

Jane decided that if the woman was still there when she passed back by, she’d help. And, when she passed back that way, the woman was indeed still there, although now sitting in her car. It was getting dark. So Jane circled around and asked if she needed help.

The woman told her a story of traveling from one place not very close to here, where her mother lived, to another place not very close to here, where she lived. Her car had run out of gas and her cell phone had died. She showed Jane that she had some cash. She said she was a nurse at a hospital and offered to show her ID.

Jane told her that we had a gas can at our house. She’d call her dad and he’d bring some gas. So Jane did just that – called her dad. We paused the show we were watching so that he could go help. Jane didn’t wait for him on the side of the road with the woman. She went ahead and brought her brother home.

“Did I do the right thing?” she asked when she briefed me on the story. “I mean, if it was a man, I wouldn’t have stopped. But. Did I do the right thing?”

“Yes, dear. You did. Running out of gas and your cell phone happens to be dead is a suspicious story. You were right to be on guard. But it sounds like she really needed help so I’m glad you stopped.”

There was so much to unpack there. A young woman and a stranded motorist. What are the rules? Don’t stop if the motorist is a man. Unless you have a man with you. A man, not your teenage younger brother. Don’t approach the car. Or maybe don’t even get out of your car. Don’t let them into your car. Don’t get into their car. Don’t quite trust the story – no matter how vulnerable they seem. But don’t be callous -we are called to help people. But don’t let them get close enough to grab you. Call someone for help. Or call the police? But not 911 because it’s not an emergency.

The story was true, we think. The woman couldn’t stop praising Jane when my husband showed up with a can of gas. She was an older woman. Most of us wouldn’t be on the road without a charging cable for our phone, but an older person? Yeah, totally believable. And the road behind her? It’d been a while since she had been able to see a gas station from the road.

I’m glad my daughter stopped to help. I don’t fault her for not stopping the first time. She was likely too far past the woman by the time she processed what was going on and what she should do. I am disappointed that no one else stopped in the 20+ minutes it took Jane to circle back around.

It has all gotten me to thinking though. Jane heads off for college in less than two weeks. What other scenarios have we failed to prepare her for? Both on the road and in life. How well will she fare on her own? So this is why parents of adults don’t necessarily relax – especially parents of newly-minted adults. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind doesn’t apply to your children.

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