When my daughter celebrated her 15th birthday, I began thinking about the fact that she will probably be wanting a car within the next year. This thought scared me to death. I had so many questions going through my head. Is she responsible enough to get behind the wheel of a car? What kind of car do I buy that will be safe if she were to get in an accident? Can I afford the extra insurance and maintenance on another vehicle? What kind of rules do I establish regarding her use of the car? Does it make me a bad parent if I make her wait an extra year to drive? All of these questions created overwhelming stress, so I started to do my own research to understand what other parents were doing, and how the kids were reacting. I started talking to parents of children who were already driving. I started paying attention to younger drivers while on the road. I started reading on-line articles about teen driving. Even after all of this, I still felt unprepared. I decided to take the bull by the horns and whether right or wrong, I was going to get past this difficult situation unscathed.
The first thing I had to do was determine responsibility. As I would drive my daughter different places, I would talk to her about potential driving hazards. We talked about speed limits, road signs, and defensive driving. If we came upon an accident, we made a game out of trying to figure out what caused the accident, and how it may have been avoided. We discussed erratic driving every time someone pulled out in front of me or cut me off. I assigned her to the task of checking the oil and tire pressure in my car every other week for 3 months (which she did religiously by the way).
I observed her level of maturity with other life events as well. I watched how she interacted with friends and other adults, and noted any situations that seemed to lead to reckless behavior. Then I started to record her reactions to her different anxiety levels. I noted whether emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness led her to react in a manner that would be dangerous if she was behind the wheel at the time the emotion hit. About 4 months later, I believed that she was capable of the mental and emotional responsibility of driving a car.
Moving to my next two questions, I started researching vehicle safety and price. I eventually found a car with dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, and side impact door beams that fit into my budget. Granted it wasn’t the beautiful sports car or souped up four wheel drive that she was dreaming of, but she was appreciative anyway. The deal we made before starting the car search was that my husband and I would spring for the car, but that she was required to pay for half of the insurance and all of the gas and maintenance for her car. This eventually taught her another life lesson – you have to work a lot of hours to own a car – which cut into the time she thought she would be spending driving around with her friends. It wasn’t quite so much fun to her anymore, but she did seem to develop a feeling of independence and pride after a while.
Question number four was easily the hardest one for my daughter to swallow – “The Rules”. During her first 2 months as a licensed drive, she was not allowed to have any friends in the car, and to make matters worse, I told her that she had to keep her cell phone in the trunk until she got to her destination. I also had the stereo removed during that initial 2 month period. I wanted her attention to be on the road, not busy dealing with other distractions. She made it through the 2 “worst months of her life” as she describes it, and I slowly gave her more freedoms. There were also permanent rules that never got revoked.
1. She was never allowed to have more than 3 friends in the car because there was only 3 other seat belts.
2. If she was ticketed for any reason, she was responsible for the ticket and all of the court costs associated with it.
3. Under no circumstances was she to take the car anywhere besides where she had permission to go without notifying me first.
4. Drinking and driving is immediate grounds for selling the vehicle.
5. If she was in an accident, she was responsible for the damages.
All that being said, question number five was no longer an issue. I made the right decision. An extra year might have made me feel better, but learning to drive and getting her license taught her some lessons that nothing else would have taught her.