Column: Freedom of the Road

My Grandson turned sixteen last week and I’m still trying to figure out where those last sixteen years went. I can recall pacing the hospital corridor, and the week-end sleepovers and all the things that Grandpas and little boys do together. Now he is taller than me and no doubt quite a bit smarter than me or his parents.

By the afternoon of his birthday he had been to the Motor Vehicle office and proudly came out with his ‘L’. This opens up an entirely new scope of possibilities for a boy and an entirely new set of worries and concerns for his parents.

The ‘L’ is the first step in the Graduated Licence Program. To get through GLP, you’ll have to pass three tests, one multiple choice test, then two road tests. It takes about three years from start to end. That means lots of time to develop your skills.

I had a graduated program when I learned to drive as well. I can still hear the encouraging voice of my father, “Let the clutch out, the fan won’t pull it.” or “They call it a stop sign because you’re supposed to stop before you pass it.” or “Is your neck broken? Check over your shoulder before you turn.” Yes, it was driving boot camp for sure. Eventually, after some professional lessons as well, I would take the driving test and I would have our license.

But, that was the provincial exam, not Dad’s final exam. Eventually, when we could stop on the hill, release the hand brake, the clutch and the foot brake all in the right sequence without stalling or spraying gravel, we could get to use the car on our own. We always had to endure the lecture about it being the family car and not something to joy ride in. It had to get Dad to work, don’t speed and leave the radio turned off so we could concentrate. To this day, if I’m looking for an address, I turn the radio off so I can concentrate.

We had a long driveway to practice in and every time Dad gave us the keys he would say “Take it up and down the driveway but don’t go on the road.” Many years later, after the implant of his defibrillator, Dad no longer had a driver’s licence. One day he had to move his car out of the garage and asked me to get his keys. I stood at the window and said, “Take it up and down the driveway, but don’t go on the road.” He scowled and growled, “Give me those keys, now.” He didn’t always think I was funny.

I’m sure my Grandson will eventually drive a nice electric vehicle. The National Safety Board is going to require electric cars to make noise at low speeds to warn pedestrians. I’ll show him how to attach baseball cards to the spokes of the hubcaps with clothespins. That always works. At least that’s what McGregor says.

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