Sailing the Family Car

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We weren’t surprised to read about the 14-year-old girl who plunged her aunt’s minivan into Lake Montebello last week. In light of the news last month that Maryland drivers scored second to lowest nationally on their written driving test, and considering that most Baltimore motorists seem to consider it their birthright to run reds, and recalling how last December one eager dog owner plowed her SUV straight through Eastern Animal Hospital’s wall, we expect local drivers to make, well, not great decisions, like the girl’s free-spirited 25-year-old aunt who was giving her young niece an illegal driving lesson when the child accelerated rather than braking, soaring straight for the water. Since everyone’s okay, including the aunt’s middle-aged mother who rode in back, we can snicker about it, and reminisce about our own driving lesson days.

Back then, every 16-year-old we knew with a freshly laminated driver’s license in hand had something to prove, to parents, looking to witness their baby’s dedicated road safety, to their rowdy friends, who wanted to hear the brakes squeal a rebel yell as the family wagon hauled the crew out of the high school lot on a Friday, to his or her own young self, who felt a heady rush with each turning of the key—driving equals such wonderful, giddy freedom and, with it, the solemn reminder that your own life, and the lives of others, are in your hands. (Worth noting: Teens make up about 10 percent of the U.S. population, but are responsible statistically for a whopping 12 percent of all fatal car crashes.)

Every 16-year-old we knew caused some minor accident that first year on the road, and one of them an unfortunate car-flipping major accident. My sister sailed my father’s sports car into our closed garage door, then left a note of apology and fled. Mysteriously, my best friend parked her mother’s extra-wide Buick sideways in the middle of my residential street, and got ticketed and towed. And I barreled downhill backward in a standard transmission Toyota Celica, until I remembered my father’s advice, and toward the steep bottom, yanked the emergency brake. That moment scared me enough to master the Celica, and I think because of it, I most always remember to drive with a little fear in my heart, whether or not the wind’s whipping through my hair. I sincerely hope the 14-year-old van’s captain learns same.

What was your teen driving close call or hard-earned driving lesson, or that of your son or daughter? In the name of road safety, and having a chuckle over the trials and tribulations of teen-dom, please let us hear.



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