What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done as a parent? For me, it’s adapting to being a passenger or observer to my daughter behind the wheel of a car, nervous about her driving on roads alongside people who may not be quite as vigilant as she is.
On a general rather than personal level, I’ve always been bewildered by the fact that 16 year olds are eligible to begin operating one of the most potentially dangerous pieces of machinery. With one small distraction or error, lives can be lost. In fact, motor vehicle crashes, according to American stats (found at driving.ca), are the number one killer of teens. And yet, at sixteen, an age at which the brain is still developing, the law dictates that teens are capable of making split second life and death decisions. Unbelievable to me that this is sanctioned, but that they are still years away from making less life changing decisions such as when they vote. And how is it that the same law makers consider it best for that same teen to wait until at least the age of nineteen to consume an alcoholic drink? I have heard it said that the age for driving may jump to eighteen, and I’d welcome this, but fear that it may just be a rumour. The cynics among us may wonder if car manufacturers and insurers might fight this change anyway. After all, sixteen year olds, (or their parents, that is) pay high insurance premiums for the privilege of driving a car.
A few years back , when my daughter turned 16, I was relieved to learn that she wasn’t all that eager to jump into driving. In fact, even though she obtained her G1 at 17, and completed her in class lessons soon after, she continued with a slow, steady and sporadic series of in car lessons for years until she felt completely confident behind the wheel of a car. Last month, at the age of 20, she was granted her G2. I think that with all her training, she is a technically better driver than me. She has even pointed out a few things to me that I had forgotten. However, through no fault of her own, and despite reminders that she wouldn’t have been granted her license if she wasn’t competent, I still have my right foot on my imaginary brake on the passenger side of the car when is driving me anywhere, still grip the handle above the window and feel the urge to close my eyes as she is turning left at a busy intersection. Guiltily I know that I am more of a hindrance than a help. I know that when I’m nervous and giving off those vibes in the car, she is going to feel tense too but I can’t seem to help myself. I have reminded her on several occasions that this has nothing to do with her –she has persevered and diligently earned her rightful position behind the wheel of a car – but give me a break – after all, wasn’t it only yesterday that she was learning how to ride a bicycle!
Despite my emotional reaction, I am thrilled that she has learnt how to drive – and at an age when she is more mature, less of a risk taker and better at decision making. Driving is an important life skill and will make her life easier when she one day has kids to car pool from one activity to the other or simply now wants the luxury and independence of getting from one place to another without relying on us.
Mostly, I appreciate her patience as I work towards becoming a better passenger. It can’t be easy to understand how hard it is for me, as her parent, to watch the car that she is driving turn the corner until it is no longer in my sight.