Reader Rant: On Dumbing Down Teen Drivers

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Here’s the latest reader rant, along with my reply!

Mo Mo writes: My mom shelled out the $200 for my behind-the-wheel at 17 back in ’06. No prior driving experience aside from playing Driver or Gran Turismo using the steering wheel controller and pedals on the Playstation . . .and the awful simulators at school.

After I got my license I drove to school most days, drove to see friends locally, took a few trips down south on weekends to apartment search, jumped right on I-95 merged without overthinking it and took it to 495 to 66 to 81 with the boyfriend sharing only some of the driving, often in horrible holiday weekend traffic and other times in the middle of the night with no traffic. No accidents. No near misses. Got in maybe a year of experience before my car shit itself. Had no car from 19 to 21 but during those college years I still had a valid license and did designated drive or on occasion borrowed friends cars here and there. No problem.

First ever accident at 22; some drunk piece of shit backed out of a full-service gas pump line without looking and mounted the fucking hood of my car with the rear of his pickup. Second accident, drunk driver leaves his lane and side-swipes me on the highway on my way home from work. Third accident, idiot pizza delivery driver pulls into the shoulder and promptly makes a U-turn on a 50mph highway at night without bothering to notice that I was behind him for the last 5 miles or bothering to check his mirrors or blindspot, and took me off the road in my mom’s SUV. Three insurance claims, three police reports, none were reasonably foreseeable, none my fault.

It’s not all teen drivers. The people who took me off the road weren’t teenagers. And people withholding confidence in their kids’ abilities isn’t helping. My mom took the brunt of that first $1,200 6-month premium for me. So with the shittiest report cards in my academic career (just barely passing because I didn’t give a fuck), and no personal financial investment in this vehicle aside from oil changes, gas, and tolls . . . no accidents. Speeding tickets in the first car. A warning for leaving my lane when I flinched because a pig was suddenly tailgating me on a damn near pitch black backroad not but a second after absolutely nobody had been in my rearview mirror. Headlight ticket when that went out.

Nothing major.

The public perception on teen driving shifted when parents stopped feeling accountable for their own precious little mistakes. I could more than handle it and I had zero experience going into it aside from about 6 hours or something behind the wheel with the school driving instructor. My parents weren’t even home much at that point to parent me about it but it wasn’t necessary because they’d long since already taught me the importance of paying attention and being responsible. That first car was my fuckin’ key to freedom at 18 and it plenty safely helped get me the few hundred miles away from my family that I desperately needed at the time.

Today’s kids are exactly what their shitty parents allowed them to become. If they’d been given the means to learn how to drive responsibly they’d be fucking doing it. For anyone to try to argue otherwise is totally absurd and absolutely infuriating.

My reply: I am at a loss to add much worthwhile to this excellent summary of the situation! You are exactly correct that teenage drivers are not inept because they are teens but to a great extent because they are treated as kids – idiot kids – by their parents and by the system. Treat them as young adults and you’ll get responsible adults, for the most part. And the rest? No different than the “adult” demographic, which has its share of flies in the soup, too.

Idiot proofing and dumbing down as a general, presumptive policy only begets more dumbed-down idiots.

And that’s something we could use fewer of, teens or otherwise.

. . .

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