Tuesday, January 20, 2009

License To Worry

Morris Mini-Minor 1959. Image via Wikipedia
Probably the single greatest worry for parents of teenagers, ahead of dating, drugs and pregnancy, is when their adolescent children start driving. It is one rite of passage we parents celebrate reluctantly. And can you blame us? Our insurance rates go up, car keys mysteriously disappear, the gas tank always registers empty, but tantamount to all that, we worry that we’ll lose our precious son or daughter, an inexperienced driver, in a fatal car crash.

We hear a siren in the distance, we wait for a phone call, we breathe a sigh of relief. They turn 16 and we turn neurotic.

Our paranoia over teenaged drivers is not unfounded. According to the California Highway Patrol, teenagers in our state are 42 times more likely to be killed on our highways than adults. And here’s another zinger from the CHP: Teens driving with a peer in the first year of their license are 70% more likely to be involved in a fatal or injury accident, especially at night.

Makes you rethink that whole giant-red-bow-on-the-brand-new-Hyundai thing, doesn’t it?

Technically, I shouldn’t have to worry about this nightmare for another year. My oldest is 15. But her 17-year-old stepsister and 16-year-old stepbrother both have their licenses. The ex and stepmother celebrated in giant-red-bow style and bought the stepsister a Mini Cooper. And I mean “mini.” I’ve seen dogs bigger than that car! Now, thanks to a divorce and the ex’s remarriage, the greatest fear I have -- my children driving --- has been accelerated a few years.

I picture these three free-spirited blondes driving to the mall, the radio tuned into THEIR channel, blaring THEIR music in loud protest to all those years they had to listen to MY music, as they haphazardly negotiate the twisting, curving roads of Palos Verdes in that microscopic Mini Cooper. Giddy, clueless girls, a teenaged driver, winding roads, rocky cliffs, the ocean below . . . in my overactive mind, it’s a recipe for disaster. And I can’t do a darn thing about it. I am the ex-wife, the persona non grata. I have no authority, no voice in Stepland. I have to have faith that my daughters’ angels will be working overtime.

But alas, there is some hope. In 1998, California enacted one of the toughest graduated licensing laws in the country, and in 2006,they got even tougher. The minimum age for getting a permit was raised from 15 to 15 ½, and learners must get at least 50 hours of supervised practice. Once licensed, 16-year-olds can’t drive unsupervised at night after 11:00; and they can’t carry passengers under age 20, unsupervised, for an entire year.

And guess what? These new laws are keeping our children alive. Studies reveal a 23% overall reduction in per-capita crashes involving 16-year-old drivers and a 38% decrease in crash rates with teen passengers.

I'll admit that gives me SOME peace of mind. But not much.

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GeminiWisdom said...

Wow. I think all states should adopt this law.

Lynn said...

Yes, they should. But really, what makes more sense is to not allow teens to drive AT ALL! The driving age should be, well . . . 22. Well, really 21, when young people are considered real adults. But since that's the age when everyone can go out and get legally drunk, getting your driver's license on that same day wouldn't be the best combination. So, 22. That's my final answer!