Sage Advice: Father/Son Driving Lesson Takes a Wrong Turn

By Amy Dickinson | July 18th, 2018

Whose responsibility is it?

Driving Lesson

Dear Amy: My son recently received his learner’s permit to drive. The other day, backing out of a driveway, he hit our neighbor’s mailbox.

My husband was with him and admittedly was not paying attention at that moment. The owner was nice about it and they agreed to have my son and husband replace it.

My husband thought my son should pay for the replacement of the mailbox. We ended up in an argument over this last part. I feel that my husband was supposed to be paying attention, monitoring and teaching him to drive. I have warned him repeatedly that our son needs a lot more practice, because driving our big car isn’t coming naturally to him.

My husband feels that I am being soft.

Our son wasn’t goofing off, he wasn’t being stupid and he didn’t do anything wrong, except not know how to maneuver the car safely in reverse. It could have been avoided if my husband hadn’t been looking at his phone at the time.

My husband has accepted that what he did was wrong, but is angry at me for letting our son “off the hook.”

Our son apologized and worked in 90-degree temperatures to replace the mailbox. I feel that was reasonable and responsible. Am I letting my son off the hook?

– Responsible Mom

Dear Mom: Your husband seems to be taking a (laudable) stand to try to teach your son responsibility and accountability, but the easiest – and most effective – way for him to do this would be for him to say: “Son, lesson number one in our safe-driving course is this: DON’T look at your phone while you are in charge of the vehicle. As the only licensed driver in this car, I am responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle. And look! I blew it before we even got out of the driveway! Imagine if that had been a person, or a pet…?”

This is the very essence of a teachable moment, and your husband blew it by blaming the student for the teacher’s failure. The two should share the consequences of this accident.

Every driving lesson with your son should be 100 percent free of distractions. The teacher and student should either leave their phones at home, or lock them in the trunk of the car during the entire lesson. The radio and navigation system should also be off. It takes a long time to learn to operate a vehicle safely. That’s why the permitting and graduated licensing systems are in place.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2018 by Amy Dickinson

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