Driving lessons

A severe head injury, resulting from a car accident when I was in middle school, forced me to try harder to master a key life skill

by Matthew Pascarella '06

When I was 17, most of my friends began to drive, and I felt incredibly left out. I didn't feel like my own person. I was a prisoner stuck in my own house.

Matt Pascarella '06

It took five years, but Matt Pascarella ’06 of Portland, Maine, finally passed his driving test. “The fact that just about all my friends, not to mention other people my age and younger were driving, made me feel terrible,” he says.

Not being able to drive meant I scheduled my life around times that worked for everyone else. I went through a lot of counseling to talk about different strategies for attaining my license, but my parents were completely against it. I didn't have the spatial abilities, focus and attention span to be able to drive safely. I wasn't going anywhere.

For a while I toughed it out, but at times my anger got the best of me. I got especially upset when my father told me that I might never drive. "Great," I thought, "now I'll be stuck taking the bus or riding my bike everywhere. Just one more example of how I will always be different from everyone else."

One-third of the way through my senior year, my parents finally allowed me to take driver's education in the classroom. It was similar to school in some regards, and school was something I excelled at. I did well and passed the course.

This is where I hit a bump in the road.

In order to get my license, I needed to clock 30 hours of daytime driving and 5 hours of nighttime driving. Soon, it became apparent that driver's education wasn't all that I needed in order to drive. I still had trouble with spatial issues, my lane positioning was off and I was too easily agitated behind the wheel. All this only made my father more and more uneasy about me getting - and staying - behind the wheel.

When I went off to college in Connecticut, I didn't need a car, so I resigned myself to give up on driving for then. College life preoccupied me, and, besides, not many students had a car on campus. When I transferred to St. Joe's, however, I again felt the pressure of not having a license. I needed transportation. My family regrouped to figure out the best approach.

Almost three years had passed since my last attempt at driver education. We looked at a few places that provided driving rehabilitation and decided on DriveAbility in Exeter, N.H. I practiced for four hours each day with a specialist. She worked with me on lane positioning, speed control, and parking maneuvers. I stayed in Exeter for five tiring days, but each day the instructor saw marked improvement in my technique. After the week was over, she gave me the okay to begin clocking my hours to go for my license. My own confidence was up as well. I was finally ready "to feel like everyone else." My parents also felt more confident and reassured that I was prepared to go out on the road.

After three more months of practice, the day finally came for the real driving test. I don't remember what day it was; I just remember that I was very nervous and worried about how I was going to do. The instructor's first direction was to back up 100 feet. In practices before the test, I had struggled to keep the wheel straight while backing up. However, this time I did it with no problem.

The next part of the test was to parallel park - I still dread this and avoid it to this day. But I had done this successfully when practicing in my driveway.

Though I went slowly as I backed into the space, I nudged the rear bumper of the car I was parking behind. So ended my first driver's test.

Matt Pascarella

Now driving a tan Grand Am, Pascarella will always remember the light blue Chrysler Eagle Vision that he took his driver’s test in, and the date he succeeded – May 31, 2005.

I was devastated. I had worked so hard and it ended so quickly. Lucky for me, the insurance companies were not involved. The price I had to pay was the price of defeat.

After more practice - and somehow knowing in that process that I wasn't destined to walk everywhere the rest of my life - I took the test a second time. I was twice as nervous and 10 times as worried about failing. But I was prepared. I had learned from my previous mistakes and knew where to be careful. My only flaw was almost missing a stop sign, but I caught it at the last minute.

The moment that I got my license will stay forever fresh in my mind. Five years in the making, it finally happened. I will never forget the day - May 31, 2005. I have been driving for four years now and every time I get in the car, I am reminded of all the hard work I did to get to this point. I have achieved quite a bit as an individual with a head injury, and I can honestly say that this is the accomplishment that I am most proud of.