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George Bernard Shaw once penned, "Even the youngest of us may be wrong sometimes." But when it comes to driving, the youngest, unfortunately, are wrong much of the time.
The statistics are staggering:
- On average, two people die every day in the United States in vehicles operated by 16 year olds.
- One out of every five 16 year olds crash their cars.
- A teen's risk of dying in a car accident nearly doubles when accompanied by friends.
- Seventy-seven percent of all teen accidents are the result of the teen's own error.
It is under the strident clarity of these numbers that Vermont is beginning to enforce teenage driving restrictions. Until just recently, it was the only state in New England where teenage drivers could still operate a car without any legal clampdowns.
But that lately changed when the state legislature banned teenagers from transporting any passenger (other than a parent or guardian) during the first six months of owning a junior operator license. Lawmakers are also considering banning the use of cell phones and imposing night driving restrictions.
The adage that "there is no substitute for experience" quite often sounds ho-hum trite, but it booms with validity when it comes to driving. The whopping disparity between the number of car accidents caused by 16-year-old drivers compared with 18-year-old drivers bears this out.
So if you're a teenager learning how to drive, do everything in your power to gain experience behind the wheel. We're not just talking the six hours you'll drive in your driver education course. Beyond that, try to drive whenever possible when riding with your parents, even if it's just around the block to the grocery store. Any road experience is good experience.
Also, make sure you study Vermont's Driver's Manual. Not only will it help you pass your license exams, but it will educate you about the rules of the road.
Tips for New Drivers
Here's some sage advice for new drivers from someone who's been there. They don't teach you everything in school!
- Don't order mega-size drinks at the drive-through. They tip over in the drink holders when you turn or stop, and if you hold the drink between your legs for stability, then you can't operate the floor pedals.
- Don't try to eat a sandwich or burger while you're driving. The mayonnaise-covered tomatoes will fall into your lap and you'll have to make a snap decision between swerving to the curb (bad) or leaving the grease stain on your jeans (bad).
- Don't make or receive calls on your cell phone while you are driving. It's bad karma, everyone else on the road will be irritated with you, and you won't realize you're going too slow and swerving all over the place until you cause an accident. Same goes for applying makeup while driving: just don't!
- Don't under any circumstances send a text message when you're at the wheel. The police officer won't be sympathetic when you explain that you absolutely, positively could not wait until you pulled off the road to text "c u soon" to your best friend, so instead you rear-ended someone while your eyes and thumbs were busy on the keypad.
- Don't be lame and give in to peer pressure. If some nimrod in the back seat says, "How fast can this thing go?" ignore them―they're not the one who will get busted or cause an accident. Someone in the car has to be the grown-up: you.
- Don't panic and jump out of the car if you notice a bee on the inside of the windshield. Ever seen your car roll down the street without a driver? You don't want to.
- Do wear your seatbelt every time you get into a car, even for a short ride. Something as common as stopping suddenly to avoid a cat darting across the street can cause your face to meet your steering wheel. The results won't be pretty, and your prom date will find an excuse to back out.
- Do be vigilant for other drivers who are not as with it as you are, and keep your distance. You never know when they will decide to enter your space (since they won't bother to signal), and the element of surprise isn't as fun on the road as it is at a birthday party.
- Do install a dog barrier in the back of your car before taking Rover for a ride. Rover will want to be in the front seat with you, and trying to swat him back with one hand while steering with the other is a sure way to take out a whole line of parked cars.
- Do obey speed limits so that you will have time to react should an unexpected obstacle (a person, another car, an animal) appear. Besides, no one will believe you got that huge dent going "only 10 miles an hour."
- Do listen to your stereo at a low enough volume that you can hear emergency sirens. Those fire trucks are a lot bigger than you, so you'll want to know one is approaching before it runs you over.
- Do take it easy, pay attention, and take the rules of the road seriously. In a few years when you can honestly say you've never had a ticket or an accident, people will respect you, and it will be an enormous point of pride.
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