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Bob's opinion about your teen starting to drive.

I remember starting to drive. The sheer wonder of real freedom; the intoxicating joy of self-determination. There is no other feeling like it and it is truly one of our society's great "rites of passage." I remember providing a ride to church for two beautiful sisters. And cruising PCH. And cruising Bellflower Boulevard. And cruising Whittier Boulevard. And the drive-in burger joints with waitresses on roller skates and trays hanging on the car door. And taking myself out for a $2.00 chicken dinner at Norwalk Square before Sunday night church, just because I could. And drive-in movies with Don, Ron and Steve. A teen driver begins to feel like an adult and the fact that they are allowed to drive confirms that their family and even the state government recognizes them as such.

I also remember my first crash while making a left turn in Norwalk. And my second while yelling at two girls from my biology class who were walking down the street in Artesia. And the day I should have died in Montebello after dropping my mom off at work, but purely by chance survived by a matter of, literally, six inches. And the time I backed my mother's car into a ditch after a pool party (keep this quiet; she still doesn't know about it).

At all ages, the quality of our driving is determined by a handful of factors. Training, character and maturity are the most significant determinants of how a person will drive. "Maturity" is not just a theoretical term - it actually refers to a level of brain development.

Edited excerpt from a press release by Knight Ridder Newspapers:

"On the outside, teen-agers appear to be nearly grown up. But inside the skull, a vital part of their brain is closer to a child's than an adult's.
"New findings link "brain immaturity" to teens making foolish judgments and reckless decisions. Adults have long been puzzled about why otherwise smart kids take deadly chances. Scientists have discovered that one of the last parts of the brain to mature is the prefrontal cortex - the very part responsible for self-control, judgment, emotional regulation, organization and planning. This area of the brain matures the most between the ages of 12 and 20.
"Add to this brew of disconnected neurons a healthy dose of active hormones spiked with the power of peer pressure and a need for autonomy. That's a recipe for risky teen-age behavior. Most teens lack the skills to resist peer pressure. ‘Peer pressure is so powerful that it is difficult to override it by any lecture from adults,' said Michael Rapoff, professor of pediatric psychology at University of Kansas Medical Center."

The point at which we become what is normally referred to as "mature" as in "mature enough to drive" is normally reached in our late teens, unless it is delayed due to alcohol or other drug abuse. When we reach our 40's, our reaction time starts to slow and at about age 50, mental deterioration begins, in varying degrees, for all of us.

Most 16-year-olds are ‘maturity-challenged' simply because their brain is not finished developing and they therefore must be very carefully monitored if they are allowed to drive.

As you, the parent (under the law, the ‘liable party') contemplate whether your teen should drive, there is really only one question to answer - ‘Are they mature enough to do it responsibly?' Whether it will be convenient for the family to have another driver; whether you are tired of providing transportation to the limitless number of places a normal teenager must go; whether they will whine and nag incessantly - none of these are acceptable reasons to allow another immature driver on the road. If your teen is involved in illegal activities (graffiti, gangs, shoplifting, weapons, etc.) or is already participating in detrimental activities (alcohol or other drug use, smoking, extreme sports without proper safety equipment, sex), they are simply not yet mature enough to drive. You certainly do not want to be ‘on the hook' for all of the damage they can cause. Better, for them and for you, to have them wait until they are 18.

We all worry when our kids are on the road and we aren't there to watch them. But, here are some guidelines for you to consider:

  • if you are worried about your teen driving not just because of the dangers inherent in driving, but because of their personality - you are not ready for them to drive.
  • if you want to put a bumpersticker on the car with your phone number on it - you are not ready for them to drive.

You must be willing to trust your 16- or 17-year-old, not only with your emotional well-being, but with your family's financial well-being. Maybe one or two alternate forms of transportation should be considered.

"When you sign for them to be on the road, it's all on the line."

Oh, one final item - whaddaya say we wait for the Corvette, Firebird, Camaro, supercharged CRX, etc. until they can afford the payments and insurance themselves? They have enough of a challenge overcoming their hormones and not-yet-finished brain without the additional challenge of too much horsepower. If you need more convincing on this topic, simply do the research.