I wrote this article seven years ago when my only child was 15, but it is a favorite and I hope you enjoy reading it.
Sitting next to my teen daughter, she in the driver’s seat and me in the passenger’s seat for our third driving lesson in a nearby parking lot, I had a flashback. My mind drifted to the day after her birth, 15 years earlier. I was lying on my back and she was napping, her tiny stocking-capped head resting against my ribcage, each of us feeling the other’s warmth and heartbeats. I remembered thinking about the wondrousness of birth, the immaculate beauty of a newborn, and the performance capabilities of the modern diaper.
Screech! I was jolted from my reverie by a dumped clutch as our family car lurched forward. “Sorry dad,” she said, wondering aloud how her parents could be so thoughtless as to inflict upon her a manual transmission while all her friends were learning on automatics.
It goes without saying my daughter is a competent young lady—intelligent, attentive, and dexterous. In my fumbling paternal way, I have tried over the years to teach her a thing or two, but typically she already knows those and more. It’s nice to have a fleeting upper hand, experiencing a skill I can do robotically and so far, she can’t do at all.
Earlier in the week, I sat through an excruciating evening presentation for young drivers and their parents at Christiansburg High School where a parade of pedantic teachers, administrators, and law enforcement people downloaded a weighty cargo of horrifying statistics about teens behind the wheel. For instance, your child, or shall I say my child, is roughly 126,000 times more likely to have an accident before her next birthday than the members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club. Sixteen year olds have the attention span of cocker spaniels (with all due respect to cocker spaniels) and don’t develop into functional human beings, attention wise, until at least their mid-twenties. Furthermore, these teens are physically incapable of just doing one thing at a time, like driving, and will preternaturally gravitate towards adjusting the radio, putting on make-up, or downing a 16-oz Mellow Yellow, or some combination, every twelve microseconds.
We were told that cellular phones are a real driving hazard. Some states have restricted their use when driving, but not Virginia. My daughter’s fingertips haven’t been more than a millimeter away from her phone since day one and I’m sure she’d be happier if it could be surgically implanted. She types cryptic messages at 48,000 words per minute and there is no thought too inconsequential to exchange at any hour of the night or day with her boyfriend. She, “I dnt fel wel & i jus snezd.” He, “Im bord w/ my jb & i wnt 2 go hm.” It was suggested to us that we convince our child through reasoned parental persuasion, that the cell phone should camp in the trunk and not be accessed whilst our child is driving. I proposed it moments ago to a cryogenic look of outrage and indignation.
Also it was suggested, perhaps as a twisted joke, that we see the whole driver training experience as a wonderful, familial bonding opportunity. Right.
The meeting featured several gratuitous angst-breeding documentaries, some more relevant having been filmed right here in the homes and valleys of Virginia, where real parents of real deceased children choked through torrents of tears talking about the senseless losses of little Suzy and Tommy to avoidable traffic crashes. The irony here is that my daughter didn’t accompany me to this meeting, as she had something infinitely more important to do, like riding her horse or somesuch. The presentation was completely wasted on me, as I’m already more vexed about her safety in cars than anything.
Screech! “Sorry, dad,” she repeats.
Lastly, we got our sermon from the local State Farm Insurance agent. He didn’t venture any actual numbers regarding the projected increase in premiums associated with adding a teen driver, lest mass resuscitation efforts be necessary. But I envisioned that if our current insurance costs $500 annually to cover my wife and me, it would rise to approximately $675,000. That is, of course, assuming we can actually find an insurance company naive enough to cover such an obvious risk as my daughter.
The bottom line is that the chance of your child having a tragic crash the first time he or she shifts into “reverse” is 344%. Any parent would have to have a bucket of walnut shells inside his or her cranial cavity where the grey matter belongs to allow his or her baby to drive an actual car on an actual road before that baby reaches the age of, say, 43.