On Mothering a Teenaged Driver


Car crashLast week a 17-year-old Winnipeg girl died. She was riding in an SUV with her friends at 1 o’clock on a weekday afternoon, when the vehicle hit a tree. She was ejected from the car and was killed. Her friends were all hurt, and charges have been laid against the 17-year-old driver.

This story would have made me cry anyway – I have become much more susceptible to any sad tale involving children since becoming a mother. But it really hit me in the gut, because my 16-year-old is learning to drive.

He’s a good driver, although not yet ready to take his road test. His reflexes and mechanical control of the vehicle are excellent – years of playing video games are apparently good for something. The mistakes he makes are a direct result of inexperience, and he is a quick learner. More importantly, he loves to drive and asks to do it as frequently as he can, accumulating as much experience as possible. These are all good things.

Nevertheless, I am putting my child in charge of a lethal weapon. Right now I sit next to him and remind him to slow down if a light up ahead is about to change, call out warnings if he is drifting in his lane and tell him what to do about obnoxious guys in macho trucks who are trying to get him to move faster than is wise or legal.

But some day soon, he will be out there by himself. I tell myself that he is a good and cautious driver with a healthy respect for the powerful machine under his hands and for the speed limit and seat belt laws. I teach him everything I can so he and everyone around him will be safe. I have to let him go out and learn to be an adult.

But last week, a 17-year-old girl died, and a 17-year-old boy was left with a burden of guilt he can never, ever lose, regardless of what his friend’s mother says and how genuine her forgiveness is.

We all cry.

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