Sunday, October 30, 2011

Whatever Happened to Responsible Teen Drivers?

When I was a kid, I was pretty darn responsible.  When it came time for me to get my driver's license, I viewed it as something hugely important, and something that had to be taken seriously.  Even though I was driving in the days before mandatory seat belt laws, my car didn't move until everyone was buckled in.  I was driving back in the days when it was permissible to load a pickup truck full of people in the back, and when I had a load of people back there, I drove with the understanding that everyone in the back had their lives resting in my hands.

My post today was prompted by Allison over at A Few Sprinkles Short of a Sundae.  She posted yesterday about a near-miss she had with a teen driver who blew a stop sign.

I really don't like the idea of graduated licenses.  I don't like the idea that teenagers can't be used to run their siblings around any more, and that kids can't pick their friends up with their father's car and go to the movies.  I don't like that kids aren't allowed to go on the cruise, which was something hugely important to my teenaged brain, though I didn't do it very often.

Of course times were a lot different when I was a teen driver.  There were fewer cars, fewer distractions (no cell phones, texting, and internet-enabled devices like iPads) and most kids knew that if they brought their father's car home with so much as a dent, they would be dead, Dead, DEAD.

Was it fear that made us responsible?  Or was it just that we actually cared that we did the right thing and pleased our parents?

As much as I hate the idea of graduated licenses and restricted driving rights for minors, I think they have become necessary.  There was a case a few years back where some star kids from the local high school were in a terrible wreck on one of our city streets.  Two kids died, another ended up with permanent, life-altering disabilities.

They were hot-rodding around town and ran into an immovable object.

Game over.

A while back, my kid and I were outside when she spotted a girl she knew from school.  The girl was texting and driving, barely stopped at the stop-sign at the corner by our house, and wasn't wearing her safety belt and was clearly speeding.  Then my kid told me the kicker, the girl didn't even  have her license.

Sure, dear daughter could have been fibbing about the girl's licensing status, but the fact that she was unbelted, texting, speeding and failing to stop at a marked intersection is troubling.  I wondered what her mother would say if she knew what her kid was doing.  Would she even care?

Whatever happened to responsible teen drivers?

I know my inexperience probably made me a less-good driver than someone with more experience, but I took driving very seriously.  I knew that my father's car could be damaged, and my friends could be hurt or killed if I messed up, and that responsibility was always on my mind.  Even when my friends encouraged me to drive like an ass, I'd ignore them.  I had a reputation as somewhat of an automotive killjoy, but I was never in an accident until a guy rear-ended me at a traffic light* when I was an adult.

I know that driving has historically been the teen right of passage, but I know that when it comes to my own kid, driving is going to be something she will learn after she is 18, with her own money and car.  Given her history, her lack of responsibility and her frequent defiance, I see driving as not a useful skill, but as a potential for someone to be seriously injured.

If my kid can't pay attention to the little things in her life, how can I trust her to pay attention behind the wheel?  If she gets angry and storms out of the house, what's to prevent her from jumping in a car and zooming away in an angry huff?

There was sad ending to a story like this a number of years ago.  An angry teen stormed out of the house and disappeared.  A frantic search ensued, and the car and teen's body were later discovered in a ghastly wreck.

I don't know what happened to responsible teen drivers, because even the kids I thought would be responsible have turned out not to be so.  A daughter of a friend (who is now in her mid-20s) got into accident after accident when she was first licensed.  Although she was a hugely responsible kid, and she did well in school, her responsibility ended when she got behind the wheel.  Of course it probably didn't help that her mother allowed her to have a fairly "hot" sports car as soon as she was licensed, and she didn't put her foot down and stop paying for accidents until after her daughter wrecked the car for the third time.

But as much as I hate the idea of spying on kids and restricting their ability to be fully licensed, I think Allison is right.  Parents who do allow their minor children to drive should be putting brat-cams in their cars and spying on what their kids do.  If they aren't driving responsibly, the keys should definitely go away.

* Fortunately the car only ended up with a scuff on the bumper as a result.


  1. I think you are the rare exception. I was a neurotypical kid - a goody, goody - good grades, got into Ivy legaue, no drinking no drugs and didnt get my license until I was 18 - but I still totalled 4 cars before I was 21. Because I was young, careless and stupid. It wasnt until I was much older, married with children before I became a responsible driver.

    I think the only thing that will make people more responsible, is age and experience, and even then people are awful drivers.

  2. I think you said it yourself - your friends did pressure you to drive irresponsibly when you were younger. You didn't do it, but clearly some or all of your friends would have, had they been behind the wheel. Clearly irresponsible teen drivers existed when you were learning to drive. What happened to responsible teen drivers? They don't get into accidents, so they don't make the news, but they're still there.


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