Rayelyn Lockard is looking forward to being able to do some simple tasks on her own in the near future — helping her mother with the day-to-day errands, making a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up a few items and leaving her high school …
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Rayelyn Lockard is looking forward to being able to do some simple tasks on her own in the near future — helping her mother with the day-to-day errands, making a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up a few items and leaving her high school campus during her lunch break.“I just enjoy driving around,” she said. “I’m excited to be able to start doing stuff on my own time.”The first street that Lockard, 16, drove on was Delaware Street in Englewood, and for the past 10 months, she has been practicing her driving skills. Now, she only lacks documenting two nighttime driving hours before she is eligible to obtain her driver’s license.“She was a good student,” her mother Annie Bennett said. But that still didn’t make the experience any easier, she added. “It was not always a smooth process.”For lots of American teenagers, getting a driver’s license provides a sense of freedom. They can drive themselves to and from school, and they no longer have to depend on parents for rides to hang out with friends or meet up with study groups. But for parents, although excited about the milestone in their child’s life, it can be a nerve-wracking experience of relinquishing control of being their child’s safest mode of transportation.“I think I was the problem at first,” Bennett said. “I was really nervous — I struggled a lot. But now, for the most part, my nerves seem to be a little more normal.”It is normal for parents to feel anxious about their teen learning to drive, said Ben Baron, owner and founder of DriveSafe Driving Schools, which teaches about 5,000 teens to drive annually through its 10 locations in the Denver-metro area.“When we lose the ability to solely protect our kids, it’s normal for parents to feel anxious,” Baron said. But “people get through it. Learning to drive is a milestone in their lives. It can and should be a great thing.”Baron went through the experience with his two children, who are now in their 20s. He encourages all families with a teen who will soon start the learning-to-drive process to have an open and honest conversation about each other’s nerves.“Be genuine with your teen,” he said. “Tell them, we’re super-excited, but also nervous because we’re losing our control of your protection.”Bennett agrees that having conversations throughout the learning-to-drive process is important and beneficial. It strengthened their relationship, she said.“Rayelyn and I have grown because of this,” Bennett said. “We’ve gotten closer, with our communication and trust.”Another thing that helped Bennett was Lockard’s weeklong driver’s ed course, which she took through Peak Drivers Ed last July.“It helped a ton because I didn’t have to be the first person to be in the car with her,” Bennett said. “I thought, OK, at least she knows how to turn the car on and where the gas and brakes are.”Some parents are terrified to teach their teen to drive, said Jake Dinwiddie, the lead instructor of DriveSafe’s Littleton/Lakewood location and the company-wide manager of academic quality. So after completing each lesson, he said, parents are generally excited to hear about how the lesson went and willing to take advice on what to work on.“We have the same goal,” he said, “and that is for their son or daughter to become a safe driver. It’s really neat to see the a-ha moments from both the parents and the students.”Much of teaching a teen to drive is patience and providing a supportive environment, Baron said. But two tips he would give parents are to lead by example by modeling good driving behavior and focus on safe decision-making in all scenarios of driving, for both local roads and highways.“When you think about learning to drive, you often first think about teaching the physical, behind-the-wheel aspect,” Baron said. “But more importantly, it’s also learning the mental aspect of driving — safe decision-making.”Once Lockard had completed her driver’s ed course, she and her mother had their first driving lesson together in an RTD parking lot on a Sunday evening.“I didn’t know what to expect,” Bennett said. “So I wanted to go somewhere where there was no traffic.”But her daughter was already confident enough in her own skills — she knew what all the street signs meant, understood how to turn and how the streetlights work. And with Lockard’s grandfather putting in about 25 percent of the driving supervision work, Bennett and her daughter eventually made their way to driving on well-known, predictable side streets and eventually to 45 mph.“The highways are still intimidating because most accidents happen on the highway,” Lockard said. “But otherwise, it’s fun to drive.”She drives almost every day for about an hour.And Bennett is proud of what her daughter has accomplished.“I’m confident she can do it — she knows what she’s doing,” Bennett said. “But you never get used to them growing up. And then, all of a sudden, they’re driving.”
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