“Mom, when can I learn to drive?” my fifteen-year-old son asks me daily.
My knee-jerk reaction is to reply, “When you can reach the pedals.”
At five foot two, he looks like a little old man driving in Florida with the seat pushed to the steering wheel. But in truth, the idea of him operating a vehicle frightens me more than what he looks like driving.
According to the CDC, the risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among teenage drivers ages 16–19 than among any other age group. The CDC also says, nine people in the United States die daily from distracted driving. And who are the biggest offenders of distracted driving? Teenagers.
Worrying About the Dangers of Teen Driving
When I was my son’s age, I pestered my parents relentlessly, wondering when I’d be able to start driving the car. So, I can understand my son’s frustration. But also, I’m a parent now, and those accident statistics make me nervous.
It’s not that I don’t believe my son will be a good driver. He excels at anything he puts his mind to — and right now his mind is focused on learning how to drive. He even took the online written exam for fun and missed only one question.
Brilliance aside, my son is also a member of the generation that thinks they can learn anything and master everything — like driving a car — by watching a YouTube video.
I tell him, “Just because you’ve mastered the getaway car in GTA doesn’t mean you’re ready to start driving.”
“Mom, it’s just a video game, and it’s not like I’ll be reckless and start stealing cars,” he replies. (This response is supposed to give me comfort?)
What happens next is a Freaky Friday moment. The words coming out of my mouth sound like my mother’s.
“I’m not worried about you. I’m worried about the other people.”
Adding to my feelings of déjà vu, my son rolls his eyes precisely as I did when my mother mouthed the exact same words to me.
He says, “Mom, I’ve got to learn sometime, and it’s going to be fine.”
But will it be fine? Have you been on the highway lately? My concern isn’t isolated to bad teenage drivers. Some days it feels like every driver on the highway is part of a getaway heist in GTA. Following posted speed limits can sometimes create bigger hazards for other drivers than if you speed, and if you drive ten miles above the speed limit, someone will still pass you as if you’re standing still.
My son wants to know why I don’t use the driver assistance feature when I’m in traffic. He says driver assistance means “The car practically drives itself.”
But to me, it seems inventions like driver assistance and self-driving cars invite more opportunities for distracted driving and driving mistakes. So, I tell him, “Call me old-fashioned, but I like to drive the car, not have it drive me.”
I truly believe that without all those inventions my generation had an easier time learning to drive, and as new drivers, we drove so much better than the kids are driving today.
That’s not to say there weren’t bad drivers, car accidents, speeding, or the occasional fender bender back in the day.
“Mom, what’s the worst thing you did after you started driving?” he innocently asks me.
I hesitate, fearing that he’ll hold my answer over me for years, but then I confess.
“Once, I was backing out of a friend’s driveway and didn’t see the car parked across the street and hit it,” I said. “Instead of doing the right thing and leaving a note letting the car’s owner know what I did, I drove off.”
He looks at me wide-eyed as I continue.
“I thought it was over, until my friend’s mother told the neighbor I was the one who hit his car and then gave him my phone number. He called my dad to determine if we would pay for the damage. I wasn’t allowed to drive for a month after that.”
The truth is, when I was sixteen and learning to drive, I did a foolish and irresponsible thing. And while I’m being honest, my driving skills back then weren’t very good either. In fact, during my road test I ran over someone’s lawn and almost took out a tree.
Now, sitting at this crossroads, wondering when to let my son learn to drive, I know my worries are trying to overtake reason. Of course my son should start practicing now to better prepare him for when he gets his license. I don’t want him to take out a tree during his road test like I almost did.
The bottom line is that my son will eventually get behind the wheel of a car, and I’ll probably age a lifetime while he learns to drive safely. But if I shift my focus to remembering how proud I felt the day I got my driver’s license, then I can’t wait for my son to feel the same way.