It does not matter how many children, nieces and nephews already reached the milestone. When one of them earns a driver’s license, a wave of nervously proud nausea surges. Crests of mixed emotions crash over us as we remember what we were like as newly licensed drivers. We begin to avoid eye contact with the teen, fully aware of the impending question.
It’s the only question the child will ask for the next month or so: Can I borrow the car? Requesting use of a vehicle joins creative pleas for money as the main conversation starters until, well, I’ll let you know when that changes. I’m assuming 30, but don’t want to make any rash assumptions.
My youngest is a green driver. His cousin received her freedom credentials last week. With the older kids, I frequently jumped on my soap box and preached safety. With the younger ones, I apologize first. I explain that I know they already know what I’m about to say, but I have to say it anyway. It’s as if the sound of my voice repeating safety tips can magically shield new drivers with protective forces.
Since I cannot prove this magic doesn’t exist, I thought it might be prudent to share my speech. With great power comes great, well, you know. So, feel free to read excerpts aloud to young drivers you know. Be sure to project your voice. I’m a relatively loud Italian mother and aunt, so volume might very well be part of the magic.
To all those who were just given legal permission to control a two-ton mass of metal hurtling down the highway, there are some things I need for you to keep in mind. While this tidbit should already be habit by the time you get your license, be sure to wear your seatbelt. Make sure your passengers buckle up as well.
If you don’t believe seat belts are important, read a few news stories about car accidents. Most, if not all, of the fatalities you read about include the statement that so and so “was not wearing a seatbelt.” An airbag is not a sufficient substitution, as it will not keep you from being ejected from the car.
Unfortunately, most of you have parents who do not model this next rule well. However, I’m begging you, do not text or talk on any kind of device while driving. Do as I say here, not as you see. Zip your smartphone away in your backpack or purse. Better yet, toss it in the trunk.
Your friends will not explode into bits of jelly-like goo if you don’t immediately respond to their text or tweet. And if your parents call, but you don’t answer because you were driving, they will be so thrilled they will be more likely to open their wallet the next time you are short of cash.
Never drink and drive. Of course we trust you. Of course we know you are underage and don’t drink. However, if for some reason you find yourself in a situation in which your body somehow ingests alcohol, do not drive. Call your parents to come pick you up. While precedence might dictate otherwise, there will be no yelling or preaching; but there will be lots of hugging for making the courageous, responsible decision to call.
In that same vein, never get in a car with someone who has been drinking. I don’t care if they clearly state, with no slur or stutter, that they hardly had anything to drink and are fine to drive. If they consumed alcohol, do not get in their car. Again, call a trusted, sober adult.
As a parent, I can assure you, the “I need a ride” call is the call we want. The call we cannot stomach, the one we never want to get, is the call from the police department, or, worse yet, the hospital.
Always assume all other drivers are stupid and expect them to do irrational and stupid things. If you expect the truck with the right turn signal blinking to turn left or never turn, you’ll be pleasantly surprised should the truck actually slow down and turn right. If he turns left, you will be prepared and can avoid a collision.
You are smart. You can do this. Just please remember one last thing. We know your new license gives you the power to maneuver that two-ton piece of steel to the mall, school, college, your first job, your first apartment, and more. But please don’t ever forget, it also can get you home, where your loving parents — the ones who made getting that license possible — eagerly await your next visit.
Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and the author of Thurston T. Turtle children’s books. She and her family live in North Carolina. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.