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Steer Clear of Driving Lessons for 14-Year-Old

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Street Smart:

My 14-year-old daughter has been begging me to teach her how to drive, but obviously she is below the age for a learner’s permit. Can I give her driving lessons so long as we stay on private rather than the public streets? For example, either the private streets of the gated community we live in or a private parking lot?

Dee Dee Gold, Costa Mesa Kids will be kids. I remember pleading with my dad at age 7 to be allowed to drive. Dad responded by sitting me on his lap and letting me grab the wheel during the short drive from a neighborhood grocery store to our house. Judging from my driving skills today, Dad was a complete lunatic to ever consider putting me at the helm.

Your daughter is far older than I was and certainly must have better potential driving skills. But there are a few laws--and some common-sense rules--governing when and where she can jump behind the steering wheel.

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Parking lots are by law strictly off-limits, according to Sam Haynes, a California Highway Patrol spokesman in Sacramento. But the laws regarding private streets are sort of fuzzy. Some streets are posted with signs indicating that the state vehicle code applies, and in such cases your 14-year-old daughter is out of luck.

On private roads that aren’t posted, your daughter has carte blanche--as long as you get the permission of the owner. In the case of your gated community, that would likely mean asking your homeowners association. If your association is as stodgy as the one at my old condo complex, your daughter may have to stick to the Autopia at Disneyland until she reaches the right age.

Not to sound like a wanna-be Dear Abby, but you might consider rethinking your daughter’s request, even if she gets the green light to drive in your gated community. Teen-agers grow up awfully fast. She will have plenty of time after age 16 to commandeer a car, and only then after she has had driving instruction from experts in driver-education vehicles typically outfitted to handle any wrong moves by a neophyte.

All it takes is one instance of her hitting the accelerator instead of the brake and calamity could result. The potential risk may not be worth the effort to assuage her pleas.

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Dear Street Smart:

When are the freeway ramp meters supposed to be in operation?

I have been commuting south on Interstate 5 for almost two years. I get on the freeway at 7:30 a.m. at Culver Drive. The average speed on I-5 this time of day is about 70 m.p.h. going south. There is little or no traffic on this ramp. It is a real pain to stop at this meter for two reasons: First, the merging lane is short and you really have to step on the gas to get up to 70 m.p.h. before entering; secondly, it is illogical and frustrating.

I have noticed that on many of the freeways, the ramp meters are turned off when traffic patterns show a high average speed or there is little ramp traffic. Some of these ramps have many more cars entering the freeway, but the ramp meters aren’t on.

I called Caltrans. The engineer in charge of I-5 in Irvine told me that “Sacramento” issued an order that all ramp meters in that area be on during rush hours regardless of traffic patterns.

Do you know what the Caltrans policy is? Doesn’t it make sense to leave the metering off when there is no need to have it on?

Nate Benedict,, Irvine That section of the I-5 is under construction, with work crews widening the freeway from its existing six lanes to 12, including car-pool lanes. As a result, the electronic wire loops in the pavement, which determine how many cars are on the freeway and turn the meter on or off depending on traffic, have largely been ripped up because of pavement reconstruction, according to Caltrans officials.

With the wire loops out of service, Caltrans has switched the meters so that they go on at a certain hour each day, regardless of traffic conditions out on the freeway.

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Even though you rarely see other cars on your ramp, a Caltrans spokesman said long queues of cars occasionally roar up the ramps along I-5, threatening the flow of traffic as they merge. With those instances in mind, Caltrans officials opted to keep the meters on instead of turning them off during construction.

Officials at the agency said they will be restoring the wire loops as the widening work nears completion, helping ease your gripes. Unfortunately, that day is more than a year away, so you’ll likely be stopping at the meter for quite some time.

Dear Street Smart:

Beware to all those filling their gas tanks.

I pulled into a very busy station recently and found a pump. At the same time, another car had reversed into the stall beside me. I proceeded to walk to the cashier and pay for my gas. I put $20 on pump number 15.

When I came out, I noticed the car that had pulled in behind me was also using pump number 15. I assumed this man possibly had paid right before me, since I was standing in a long line.

While I waited for him to finish, my instincts were making me very suspicious of this man. When I thought about it, I realized I couldn’t recall seeing him standing in the cashier line. But I didn’t bother to pursue my suspicions.

The man put $7 in his tank and quickly left. I proceeded to click the release handle on the pump, but couldn’t get it to come on again. When I returned to the cashier, he insisted that I already put $7 worth of gas in my tank.

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I was shocked at this and became furious. I explained what had happened, but the cashier thought I was lying to him, and an argument ensued about returning the $20. I ended up with $13 and a suggestion to call the Police Department. I didn’t have time to wait for a policeman, so I angrily left the station and went on to another.

I’ve told my story to several people and have come to find out that I’m not the only person who has experienced such an episode. It is pitiful that there are people lurking about stealing gas from others.

A suggestion I have is to park close to the cashier’s office and keep an eye on your car and the pump you are putting money on. Also, I recommend motorists remain wary of anyone who has reversed a vehicle in and is facing the exit to a street. This makes for a quick getaway for the thief.

Jim Kashima Thanks for sharing your terrible tale. It’s a sad assessment of the state of our gas stations. And I always thought it was just the oil companies that were ripping me off.


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