I just signed myself, my wife and my 15 yr old daughter up for Bike Across Kansas (BAK). BAK is a 500+ mile bike ride across the state of Kansas that takes place every year over the course of 7-days. Approximately 850 riders participate every year and every type of bicycle rider is represented (roadie, beach cruisers, haven't ridden once all year until now...). Needless to say it is a blast! So what does this have to do with teaching my daughter how to drive?
Like I said, this will be my 3rd time doing BAK. Even with all the riding experience I get from cycling around the area of my home in Florida it pales in comparison to the perspective I gained by riding BAK. Being an extremely vulnerable road user on a 500-mile journey really brings home the trust that must exist between the driver of that 2000 pound missile coming up behind you and the human navigational unit on the 18 pound carbon fiber bike with a styrofoam helmet for "protection." My Driver's Ed teacher from High School once asked us what kept the car on the other side of the dividing line of a 2-lane road from crossing the center-line and crashing into your car head-on. The answer was "trust." Sure, there are other things like laws and insurance liability that certainly deter you from crossing that line, but in the end you have to trust the other road users. As a vulnerable road user not only do you have to trust other road users but you also must learn to take precautions just in case that other road user doesn't do the right thing. My theory (and this is just a theory) is that the perspective you gain by having to not only obey traffic laws while you are on the bike just like you would if you were driving a car but also having to pay extra attention to all the other cyclists and cars on the road because your safety is on the line....will make you a better road user (piloting a bike or a car). I want my daughter to know what it's like when she gets behind the wheel and comes up behind a bike riding on the street. Most driver's are extremely uncomfortable, either because they are concerned about how much this cyclist is slowing them down or they are concerned about how much the car behind them is going to be concerned about having to pass a cyclist. What the driver really needs to be thinking about first and foremost when coming up on a cyclist on the road is keeping both himself/herself and that cyclist safe. After you have done a long bike ride like BAK the safety of the cyclist you pass in a car is the first thing that comes into your mind. If that is the only thing she gains by doing this ride with me and my wife then I've succeeded, but I think she will also come away with a better understanding of the rules of the road (I'll make sure of that). When I ride my bike I follow all the same road rules that I do when I driving my car (no rolling through stop signs for me).
With all of this talk of being such a vulnerable road user on this ride let me be very clear, this is a very safe ride. The ride route is chosen such that we are on well maintained but light traffic roads as we cross the state of Kansas. Our route is patrolled by police and state troopers to ensure both bikes and cars follow the rules and stay safe. The ride organizers also constantly communicate with the riders (every night at our post ride meetings) safety tips and reminders about how we should be riding and following local laws the next day. Sure, there are segments of the ride that can encounter some vehicle traffic or that have little to no shoulder, but that is a small portion of the ride. We typically only encounter traffic as we leave the town we camped at the night before and as we ride into the town we are staying at that end of the current day's ride. When I get back from the ride I'll also be teaching my daughter how to drive using conventional methods...you know, a car. I'm convinced I'll have a safer teen driver as a result. Oh, and did I mention that she doesn't have a choice? Yeah, her Mom and I told her she won't be allowed to get a driver's license until she rides on BAK with us. She doesn't have to ride every mile of it, she only has to ride as much as she is comfortable riding...but she does have to ride.
I wanted to share this with everyone, not because I thought most of you would follow suit but because you can use this basic concept without having to do a long bike ride. Take your soon-to-be teen driver out on bike rides in your neighborhood. Show them how to be safe as a cyclist and how to obey the road rules. It's fun, great exercise and it helps build some extra trust between you and your teenager long before you have to hand-over the car keys and pray for your safety as you sit in the passenger seat as they drive.