Friday, February 27, 2015

Teens and Driving

Anna and the Jaguar
Our children are now: 24, 22, 20 and 15 years old. We've done the driving thing.
Julia is 15 and old enough to have her driver's permit. Does she have it yet? No. Why? Well, because we're not highly motivated to make it happen. In other words, several times so far Adam has intended to get her signed up for the course and drive her over to the high school to jump through all the hoops, but he's forgotten. Oops.
Interestingly, Julia has forgotten too. Not that she doesn't want her permit; she does. But she doesn't long for it desperately enough for it to stay in the front of her mind so she remembers and pesters and begs and makes it happen.

And I wondered this morning ... why? Has our disinterest in the matter transferred to our children?

The three older children did proceed through driver's education courses, and two of them got their permits afterward. But they didn't do much driving. We almost exclusively used our van at the time, and we didn't want them driving that vehicle. If they wrecked it, we were in a terrible spot. We had an old Volvo they drove a little for practice, but eventually it died and we donated it.
One of two dead cars being hauled away by the NPR car donation folks
Maintaining insurance coverage on teenagers is expensive. If you can afford it, you're probably on the wealthier end of the spectrum, even if you don't consider yourself to be so. Maintaining a car, plus repairs and gas, plus insurance, is huge. We told our kids if they paid for their own insurance, we would let them drive our van. When we checked into the cost of insurance, that quickly settled the matter for them. In high school, none of them thought it was worth it, if they had to buy their own insurance.

Which tells you something. Perhaps driving is not this rite of passage that most of us baby-boomers think it is. Perhaps teenagers can be perfectly well-adjusted if they don't drive until sometime in college. Perhaps instead of it being foisted upon them, it's better to wait until they decide driving is a necessity for living, and they knuckle down and assess the cost against the convenience.

It's hard. We did send our Jaguar to college with Philip for a while, but that car was more of a headache and a menace than a help, I'm telling you! He was so happy to give it back to us and told us flatly that he never wanted to drive it again. A year or two later, he bought his own car, and now he's traded that in for a second car. He's on his own.
Philip's cheap little car, which actually served him quite well
She had it about a year before it died.
Anna bought a car, paid her insurance, and then a policeman rear-ended her and totaled the car. She got $4000 in the settlement. She looked at that cash, and considered the expense and inconvenience of another car, and opted to keep the cash. Catching rides and taking the train home are also inconvenient, but she wants to return to China after graduation. A car would be an undesirable burden and expense. She's saving her money for China.

Peter is currently looking for a car of his own as a junior in college. He's careful. He doesn't want to spend his cash on a lemon. He's been working hard, saving up.

All that to say, I think we inadvertently took a very wise path in our children's driving experience. We saved ourselves a lot of grief and expense, and they learned some rather important financial lessons. We weren't trying to be mean. That's the nice thing about being poor: when you say "No, we can't afford it," it's an answer that's hard to argue with.

The age of everybody-owns-a-car in our country is probably passing. I'm hopeful that some areas of the nation will have increased public transportation (trains, please!) in the near future. If you have upcoming teens, think outside the box of your own driving experience as you assess when they should drive. If you don't stress over it, perhaps they won't either.


  1. I was forced to learn to drive at 17 by my mother who wanted me to be her unpaid chauffeur. I passed the test but never bought a car....much to her disgust. When she said the lessons had been a waste of money, I agreed!! My daughter is now 21 and has no desire to learn to drive. We live in London with fantastic public transport. If that fails, we can hire a taxi much cheaper than paying to run a car. I agree that a whole generation is falling out of love with the motor car.

  2. Great discussion! I had NO desire to drive. Most of my friends were desperate to and had parents who would pay for it. My Mum could no way afford it- my sister paid for her own lessons through her part-time job and my grandparents gave her the money for a car for her 19th birthday. I had no desire to drive- I thought it was a complete waste of money and as the money I had was all of my own earning (I didn't get pocket money and I had a parttime job in the chip shop, dog walking and earning money for playing viola for a few operas) I wanted it for clothes and saving for uni (I was proud to save £1000 by myself before uni- I had no savings so I was happy to do this. I lived very near to the bus and train and then went to uni in London. It just hadn't occurred to me to drive and then as I got older, I got scared. I am still scared at the thought of driving though I had a 10minute driving lesson on a school field last year. My dad has always said to me he thought I was sensible not to drive as he said they were such an expense. The only time I feel bad I don't is a) when I have to go off to musiccamp on the train with all my camping gear and insstruments and clothes and b) the fact I don't drink and I could drive my husband so he could have a drink, or friends. xx

  3. This is so interesting! The way things are in the world today, I'd celebrate the no-driving thoughts. I didn't have my own car till I graduated from college in '67; I bought it myself. Before that I always borrowed my mother's car. It was no big deal. I say hooray to your kids! They've learned good sense from you and Adam. Blessings all around this.

  4. Oh, I really agree with you. I think financial limitations of parents often result in blessing our children with things that matter far more than stuff. And I think it makes our children value work well done which is not something I see much of among young people.

  5. I am amazed at the size of the vehicles driven by the average person in the US. Perhaps its the petrol that is cheap. Here it is (today) $1.34 per litre. Mind you there are some pretty big cars here too, but lots of people drive small ones. We have one car we share between us, and we both use the public transport system quite a lot. Very thankful my teenager is now grown up and dealing with her own teenagers, so I don't have to think about things like that.


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