By Lia Dun, 17, Senior writer, Marshall HS
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Lia still fears left turns because it's difficult to tell where the middle of the road is.

At the end of sophomore year, my friends began getting their driver’s permits, and I was hit by an onslaught of people announcing that they had braved rush-hour traffic on Sunset Boulevard and driven 80 mph on the freeway. I had never cared about learning to drive because my parents drove me everywhere but soon I realized that everyone was learning to drive except me. And while independence may be overrated, jealousy and peer pressure are not. By the end of summer vacation, I was so jealous that I signed up for driver’s ed.

My mom paid $50 for an online class, which was mostly about how you should never drive drunk because, in case you didn’t know, driving under the influence is illegal.

I passed the permit test two weeks later and signed up for driver’s training. There were three, two-hour sessions. California law requires six hours of training. My parents were relieved. No more chauffeuring me to my friends’ houses and extracurriculars.

On the first day of driver’s training, the instructor told me to get in the driver’s seat of his black sedan. I had never driven before and had been expecting to drive around a parking lot during my first lesson. But my instructor insisted that we go into traffic because if I got too comfortable in the parking lot I would be too scared of driving anywhere else.

Which pedal does what?

Illustration by Jennie Nguyen, 14,
Wilson MS (Glendale)

I turned the key and shifted the car into drive. The car started to move. I tried to brake but hit the gas. Then I found the brake and slammed it so that the instructor and I lurched forward.

I live on a steep, winding hill with narrow streets and nearly hit three people coming around blind turns. The people walking their dogs scared me the most because I thought the dogs would run in front of the car. My instructor would tell me when to brake and when to accelerate, but I was so nervous that I didn’t register what he was saying. I tried to look in the mirrors but was too afraid of losing track of what was in front of me to process what I was seeing. When I looked forward, I was too busy trying not to crash into the things that were directly in front of me so I didn’t notice cars and pedestrians approaching from a distance. Luckily, driving instructors have their own brakes on the passenger side and every five seconds, my instructor would use his to prevent me from crashing.

“Take a deep breath,” my instructor said. But the air caught in my throat and I ended up coughing instead. Only when we got onto flat road did I start to relax.

Then I turned onto Hollywood Boulevard and found myself surrounded by cars on all sides. I tried to scoot over to keep from scraping the car on my left but almost scraped the car on my right.

I almost caused five accidents. Once, a car stopped in front of me as we were approaching an intersection and instead of braking, I accidentally accelerated. I would have crashed into the other car if my instructor hadn’t slammed his brake.

“Why didn’t you stop?” my instructor asked calmly.  He was probably used to his students causing near accidents.

“I don’t know.” I didn’t want to take my mind off the road to tell him that my brain had just mixed up the pedals.

Halfway through the lesson, he took me to a residential area in Hancock Park, and I practiced turning. There was no traffic, and I started to feel more comfortable even though I always turned the car into the middle of the road because my arms were so stiff that I didn’t have control over the steering wheel. But by the end of the lesson, I felt like I had more control over the car and could stay in my lane.

My second lesson was the next day. I learned to slow down gradually before a red light instead of slamming the brakes at the last second. I was even able to sustain a two-minute conversation about school with my driving instructor before I almost ran a stop sign and had to give driving my full attention again. The hardest thing for me was left turns because I was never sure if I was turning into the correct lane.

On the third and final day of driver’s training, there was only one near-accident—when I changed lanes without signaling or checking my blind spots and barely missed hitting the car next to me. Still, compared to the first day, this was success.

“I went down Hollywood Boulevard and there were lots of other cars, but I didn’t crash into any of them!” I told my mom that night.

After three lessons I thought I was ready

My mom and I decided to go for a drive, so I could show her how much I had improved. The resulting five minutes were terrifying. My mother shrieked, “Brake!” every three seconds, and when we got to a particularly steep and narrow hill, I slowed to three miles per hour. The car behind me honked, and I was ready to cry.

Then I hit a curb. I saw it in front of me and was trying to brake but wasn’t pressing hard enough on the pedal because I was so nervous.

My mother kicked me out of the driver’s seat and drove back home. When we returned, I discovered that the curb had left red streaks on the bumper. While my mother ran inside to ask my father if he could repaint her car, I stood staring at the scrape next to the headlight. I decided to put driving on hold for a while.

After that experience, my mom doesn’t mind being a chauffeur as much anymore.

I’m still trying to get my driver’s license but have been lazy about practicing. With any luck, I’ll have a license by the end of the year.

Other stories by this writer:

What was I thinking? Hormones were to blame for 16-year-old Lia’s crush on a jerk. (November – December 2008)

Shattering stereotypes. Lia, 16, says recognizing our prejudices will help us eliminate them. (September 2008)

I wrote a novel in a month! It was difficult but fun creating a story about sado-masochistic lesbian angels as part of National Novel Writing Month, says 15-year-old Lia. (January – February 2008)