Teen with a car key
An independent teen lets Mom’s Taxi off the hook at last. So why is she still worried?

At last! It took countless hours of expense and trauma (and that’s just to the car), and 3 attempts at the test, but finally one of my teenage children is legally entitled to drive. I’m a single parent of almost 20 years’ standing, and have therefore piloted Mom’s Taxi without respite for close on 2 decades, so it was hard to tell who was in more of a state of happy delirium when my daughter passed, her or me.

Alas! The joy for me was shortlived.

Because she got her licence in the depths of the Cape winter, when cold fronts were making frequent and enthusiastic landfall, the first solo trip my daughter did (back to her university digs, in a neighbouring town) was through a fierce storm. I reminded her to drive slowly, to watch out for reckless speedsters, to keep her headlights on, to make sure her windscreen was mist-free, to phone me the minute she got in, etc, etc, and then, with my heart in my mouth, I waved her off.

The trip takes about an hour in clear conditions; I decided to give her 90 minutes before allowing panic to set in. It was the longest hour-and-a-half of my life, and when she called to let me know she’d arrived safely, I literally felt weak with relief.

In my enthusiasm to rid myself of the unwelcome burden of being my children’s sole source of transport (I really hate driving), I hadn’t considered what it would actually mean to have one of my precious, irreplaceable children in charge of several tons of speeding metal.

In the USA, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and drivers aged 16-19 have the highest average annual crash and traffic violation rates of any other age group. There are many reasons for this, and any parent of a teenage driver will recognise them: it takes time and experience for drivers to acquire the ability to detect hazards, and even when young drivers do, they often underestimate the threat and overestimate their ability to avoid it; teens are often overconfident behind the wheel, so tend to take more risks; and teens driving with passengers are more easily distracted, which substantially increases the risk of having an accident (info from www.dmv.ca.gov).

Perhaps most worrying in South Africa, where alcohol is legally and freely available to over-18s, teens who drink and drive are at much greater risk of serious crashes than are older drivers with equal concentrations of alcohol in their blood.

My daughter is generally a sensible young woman, so I have faith that she will take all the precautions necessary to arrive alive. I just hope other teen drivers sharing the road with her will do the same.

What scares you about a teen being behind the wheel of a car? Should the licence age be 16 like in the US? 

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