DEAR READERS: My middle son turns 16 this month (gasp … followed by a sigh) and plans on getting his driver’s license to commemorate the day. That said, here is what I want to tell him and all other newly minted drivers.
DEAR NEW TEENAGE DRIVER: Congratulations! What an exciting moment to be gifted the privilege of driving. It’s huge and I’m happy to celebrate it with you. I feel obliged to impart some words of wisdom before you jump behind the wheel, turn on the music and drive off.
First, I know you’re a great kid. Believe me. I trust you and I know you make good decisions (most of the time). I like your friends, think you’re witty and funny and know you have a good moral compass. But I want you to realize what comes with the word “driver.” Not only is a big privilege, it carries a huge responsibility. If it is treated with the respect and maturity it deserves, driving can be a natural rite of passage into adulthood. And because it is a privilege, let’s be clear: You can lose it at any time. This isn’t meant as a threat, more of a caution. As a parent, I have an obligation to society to allow my teenager to drive only if they are safe and respectful of driving laws. If you aren’t making safe smart decisions when you drive, I’ll pump up your bike tires and take the car keys away. Period.
The most important thing to remember is safety is first. The safety of you, your passengers and the people around you on the road take precedent over everything. I don’t care if you’re late. Don’t speed. Or if your friend challenges you to race down the road, take the loss. If you’re hungry, pull over and eat. Or if you get a text from me asking you where you are. Don’t answer until you turn off the car. The decisions you make behind the wheel can have a profound effect on your life.
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Use good judgment. Seat belts are a must, at all times. Be smart with the choices of who you allow in your car and make sure they respect you as the driver and person responsible for the 4,000-6,000 pound automobile that can be a weapon if used improperly. Don’t look away or let yourself be distracted. Never let anyone “store” something in your car. If it’s in your car, we (and law enforcement officers) will assume it’s yours.
Driving is for transportation, not recreation. Gas costs money, so respect how you use your gas. Be willing to make friends pitch in or contribute if they think of you as their personal Uber. If they have no problem always asking for a ride, you should have no problem asking them to kick in some dollars to help fill your tank.
Our cars are not garbage cans. Pick up your trash and respect the car. If you treat your car like it doesn’t matter, you will drive the same way. Keep your car semi-clean (I know you’re a teenager, so I’m being realistic) and you will be doing the driver in you a favor. A messy car makes for a distracted driver.
“Hand over the key” means just that. It does not mean plead your case, fumble for a good excuse or start an argument. If I suspend your driving privilege, odds are I have a very good reason.
The roads are teeming with foolish drivers, don’t be one of them. People are rushed, drive angry and think the laws don’t apply to them. Don’t argue or yell at people if they cut you off, just drive and keep your attention on the road. Be careful not to let your emotions control the wheel.
If you want to drive, be prepared to tell me where you are going. “Out” will not be a tolerated answer and the keys may magically disappear if that’s the best you can give me.
Two nevers: Never text or use your phone while driving. And never drink and drive.
I’m sure driving will feel like a freedom but please take this freedom seriously. Careless or reckless driving will mean the end of the freedom. If you honor the road, your life and the lives of others, you will be on your way to being a responsible driver.
Becoming a licensed driver is an exciting step in your life. My job is to keep you safe, and I take my job very seriously. You are my everything and while I know I can’t keep you little forever, I know I can set rules and boundaries in place to keep you as safe as possible. I never want anything bad to happen to your or your friends. I want you to enjoy life but also approach it with caution and awareness. Have fun and enjoy this new milestone.
Be nice to me if I repeat this whole letter the first few times you want to head out on your own. Now eyes forward, hands on 10 and 2 (or is it 9 and 3 now?) and turn down the radio. Remember when you pull out of the driveway, the most important thing in my life is driving away.