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Recently my professional knowledge and my personal life collided. It was something I had prepared for, but knowing what is coming doesn't make it less scary.
Here is what I knew:
One of the most dangerous things we do in life is something that most of us do several times per day.
Teen Driver Safety Week, which kicked off Oct. 15, exists because so many young drivers are dying on our roads. Being able to drive may be a rite of passage into adulthood, but it also is the number one killer of teens.
And here is what I did:
Knowing all of the risks, I signed off on my 17-year-old son's driver's license.
It was a Monday and I took the morning off from work. My son drove my husband and me to the licensing office about 10 miles from our house.
After checking in, we sat in the waiting area for 20 to 30 minutes and my son's number was called. He got up and looked at his dad and me, and then looked towards the counter. Since he is our oldest, we are first-time parents in a lot of experiences with him, and I wasn't sure if we were supposed to go with him or let him go by himself. In a split second, thinking that we did not want to be helicopter parents and that getting a license is a grown up thing, I told him that since it was his license, he should go by himself.
As I watched him walk up to the counter, it felt like the first day of kindergarten when he got on the bus. I thought, there he goes again, growing up. But my reverie was short-lived as within a minute he turned and beckoned us to join him. Apparently, if you are under 18 in Illinois an adult has to sign your license with you, like a co-signer of a loan.
The state employee behind the counter did a great job, looking over his learner's permit, his classroom training, verifying his hours behind the wheel, making sure he had experience driving in winter weather conditions and generally impressing upon him the seriousness of the privilege of driving. Then we went to another line for the road test.
For that one, he did go alone. After a short trip around the local area, he returned. He made some mistakes, but he passed. After another line, he received his license. (Here is where I give a shout out to the Secretary of State's office in Schaumburg – you all are awesome!)
Before he was allowed to drive on his own, we completed a new driver deal. The deal was a great way to make clear our expectations and his commitments – how late he could stay out, where he could drive and when he needed to fill up the car with gas. It also allowed us to talk about things that can be distracting behind the wheel, from cell phones to eating and drinking.
Since my nickname is Safety Mom and my license plate reads BE SAFER, none of this was a surprise. But really, it is more about who he is than what I do; he is a responsible young man and it is easy to be his parent.
Parents of teens worry about a lot of things: bullying, drugs, suicide, sex, etc. There certainly isn't a shortage of things to be anxious about, but without a doubt, the deadliest thing facing our children is getting behind the wheel of a car. It is estimated that over half of teens will be involved in a crash before they graduate. Last year a senior at our high school was killed when she was a passenger in car traveling 93mph in a 25mph zone and crashed into a tree. The young driver survived and has been charged with reckless homicide. Many lives are impacted when crashes occur. In 2015, over 4,500 were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving a teen driver, and hundreds of thousands were injured.
For now, my son would rather be a passenger than a driver; he is happiest when his dad or I drive him around. We've learned in the last nine months that even though he has the requisite hours and has earned his license, he is still a very inexperienced driver. While his confidence, proficiency and judgment continue developing, so does my anxiety. I realized that I don't relax until I hear the sound of the garage door opening signaling his safe return home.
Safety Mom OUT.