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I Can Get A Car Tracking App, But It Can’t Guarantee Safer Teen Driving

HERE. These four letters, this one word, lets me exhale. When it’s texted, I can take my morning shower, resume cooking dinner, or focus on the conversation I’m having.

It all began two years ago. As my son’s sixteenth year drew closer, I kept hoping that the state legislature would up the minimum driving age by a year or two. When 16 arrived, my husband and I tried to defer what the government did not. Much to my son’s dismay, we postponed allowing him to get his license. My son seemed to be a conscientious, cautious teenage driver.

“It’s not you,” we said. “It’s the other drivers that worry us.”

But, after numerous complaints and cries that we were paranoid, overprotective, and just plain unfair, we acquiesced and my son became a licensed driver at 16. He was finally in the driver’s seat. With gusto. Now, I’m peppered with solicitations:

Can I pick up milk for you at Target, Mom? Do you need me to take the dog to the groomer? Please, let me drop off your dry cleaning!

There’s nothing like a teenage driver to launch the parental helicopter. Family driving rules, vehicle safeguards, and just plain driving are the latest conversation topics among my peers.

“Hey, did you get that app that sends an alert when your child’s speed exceeds 55mph or he drives outside the preset area boundaries?”

“Yes! But, I have a better one! Mine sends an alert when my teen is driving and texting!”

“Well, mine can actually shut down her phone when the key goes into the ignition!”

Following His Every Move

After dozens of hours of research, I settled on the Find My Friends app. The first few weeks I felt like an addict. My eyes hungrily trailed the purple dot that represented my son driving in his car. I’d will that dot to school, to the local pizza place, to home.

With my phone beside me, I felt like the copilot. We can do this together!

The first day, I rushed into the garage when I saw his purple mark turn onto my street, and I greeted my son with an overly-animated wave in the driveway. Sometimes, at eleven o’clock in the morning, I would tap the app on my phone just to make sure that the purple circle was parked safely in the parking lot at school. Ahh. Peace.

And then one day, as I was getting ready for work and watching (copiloting!) the purple dot head toward school, the Find My Friends screen disappeared and was replaced with the picture and name of my 13-year-old.

Why was he calling? I answered and then tapped the screen. The dot appeared on the same road.

“Hi Mom, it’s me. Everything is okay, but I think that we bumped into the car in front of us.”

How was that possible? I was incredulous. I mean, I was right here, applying moisturizer in front of the bathroom mirror, and nothing changed on my screen.

My youngest son continued: “The road is wet and slippery, and the car in front of us stopped short, and Noah hit the brakes hard, and I heard a loud noise.”

I’m Not His Co-Pilot

I began a mental calculation of our new insurance premium. My voice cracked.

“But you are okay, right? You are okay??”

It turned out that the car in front of them continued to drive on, and once my kids arrived at school, they sent me a picture of the front bumper, which did not show a scratch. No harm, no foul, but that moment woke me up.

I realized that the MamaBear, Canary, or Find My Friends apps would not stop my son from running a yellow light, changing lanes without looking, or leaving too short a distance between his car and the one in front of him. Nor would it prevent the other driver from any of the above egregious missteps.

I’m not his co-pilot. But, I can be his coast guard officer. Instead of hovering, I now try to lead and manage resources, patrol the waters for safety and stewardship, and intervene only when called to duty. Instead of navigating vicariously through the Find My Friends app, I request a text message (after the car is parked and key is out of the ignition) that indicates his arrival at his destination.

It’s 6:38 p.m. My phone vibrates. I glance over at my phone. HERE. I exhale, and then toss the cucumber that I’d been dicing into the salad bowl.

Mindy Blum is a writing tutor at Nova Southeastern University. Additionally, she provides essay consulting services to college-bound and graduate school bound students. She lives in Aventura, Florida with her husband, two sons, and tailless dog.

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