Why My Kids Aren't Allowed to Drive

Long before we had teenagers, my husband and I reached a momentous, counter-cultural decision: our kids were not going to be anxiously waiting in line at the DMV to get their licenses on their 16th birthdays.  Our kids were not going to be allowed to get their licenses until they were legal adults.
Here’s the part where I am supposed to laugh at my folly and tell you how we gave in and changed our minds, right?  But we didn’t.  People laughed at us.  Everyone said we would change our minds when the time came, when we were tired of playing chauffeur to three teenagers.  For us, though, our kids’ safety trumps our convenience.  Why it doesn’t for everyone is a mystery to me.
Here are some facts.  Take a minute to read the article, especially if you haven’t already let your kids get their licenses.  Along with the grim statistics about 16 year olds and car crashes is the science behind them:  it’s not inexperience, it’s immaturity that leads to these accidents.  New 17 year old drivers have fewer accidents than new 16 year old drivers.
Did you know that one in five 16 year old drivers will have a reportable accident in the first year of driving?  Did you know that car accidents are the highest cause of fatalities for teens?  My own mother disapproves of our decision to deny our teenagers driving privileges.  Yet she has often criticized other parenting decisions we have made based upon her fear of stranger abduction.  Statistics suggest that there is a one in 347,000 chance of a given child being abducted by a stranger.  The very unlikelihood of this is what makes it news.  I know many parents who followed their children around everywhere, allowing them little if any freedom, for fear of stranger abduction, who have now blithely handed their kids the keys to the car, which is provably far, far more dangerous to them.  Read this.  Why are people so reluctant to protect their children from this very real danger?
Yes, your kids will throw a fit if you don’t let them drive.  Did that stop you from setting limits on them when they were younger?  Did you let them play with matches, or cross the street when they were small, or go into the homes of strangers?  Do you let them drink alcohol and stay out all night and go to parties without making sure parents are there?  If you are a good parent you didn’t and don’t and if your kids fussed about it, too bad.
No, this isn’t really about the kids.  It’s about the parents.  Parents who are tired of driving everywhere and want a break, who just can’t wait until their newly-minted drivers can take on the carpooling responsibilities, can bring themselves home from the football game, can run out to the store themselves when they need last minute items for school.  How many times have I heard parents say, “I cannot wait until he can drive!”
Remember, we have five kids. That’s a lot of driving.  I drove out to KCHS this evening a little before 9:00 to pick up my teenagers, who were involved in Spirit Week events, and for one reason and another did not get home until after 10:00.    There have been days when I have made six round trips due to varying after school schedules.  Truly my life would be easier if the boys could drive themselves or regularly accept rides from other teens.  John and I moan and groan about this a little bit from time to time but both of us have made a commitment to see to it that the kids don’t suffer unduly from the non-driving policy and that they get to go anywhere they need to.
My kids’ friends might think I’m mean and certainly they think I am crazy, and that’s to be expected.  I don’t make my parenting decisions based on what people think, thankfully.  But I have to admit I was irked by a comment made to my son by an adult the other day.  She laughed when he said I wouldn’t let him get his license and said I wanted to keep him “my baby boy.”
I’m not a “helicopter parent,” you know.  Emily went to Europe at 14 with People to People.  Teddy went to NYLC for two weeks at the age of ten.  My boys were allowed to walk to Walgreens and Pilot and the library in our urban neighborhood, and to stay alone at home as soon as they felt comfortable doing so.  We don’t supervise their homework or try to step in and solve all their problems for them.  We want them to go away to college and not live at home.  Our philosophy has always been to give them as much independence as possible.
No, I don’t want to keep Jake my little baby.  I just want to keep him alive.
UPDATE:  Emily didn’t get her license until after college! Jake got his at 18.  Teddy, due to unforeseen circumstances, got his at not quite 17.  William is about to turn 16 and has shown zero interest in learning to drive.  We have no regrets even though we had to drive our kids around a lot.

0 thoughts on “Why My Kids Aren't Allowed to Drive

  1. Julie

    I didn’t drive much until I was in college because my parents didn’t think it was safe for me to be driving back and forth to Magnolia Avenue by myself and I was rarely allowed to ride in cars with my friends. Joel and I have had conversations for years that neither of our children will be getting a car for the 16th birthday and the older they get the more I’ve been thinking that maybe they don’t need to be driving that early anyway. I resented my parents for it when I was sixteen and seventeen but as a parent I now have a much different perspective.

    1. It’s so good to hear from someone who lived through it and is still considering doing it to her own kids! My own memories of what I and my driving friends did in our cars is one of the things that bolsters my resolve in this matter. I was a Good Girl, a smart girl–only immaturity can explain some of the dangerous behaviors that seemed so funny at the time. Leslie Sholly “Take time just to be. Remember, you are a human being, not a human doing.” http://www.lesliesholly.wordpress.com

  2. Tara Halstead

    Kristen and Kyle have not shown any interest in wanting to learn to drive or getting their learner permits. I’m relieved! When they decide they want to learn to drive, they will be limited in where they can drive around Knoxville. I know they are as amazed as I am at the crazy drivers on the highways around town so I think that’s tempered their desire to drive. That, and the two times we were rear-ended at a red light on Cedar Bluff.

    1. That’s the funny thing about my kids as well. As much as Jake has complained, he has never shown any interest in actually getting his learner’s permit, which we would have been happy to get for him. Emily is 19 and has yet to get hers. Teddy is another story. I did not get my license until I was past 17 myself, just didn’t want to bother with it. When I was at KCHS we were on Magnolia, where the traffic was nothing like Cedar Bluff. The o nly good thing about the traffic out there is that it moves too slowly to do much damage! Leslie Sholly “Take time just to be. Remember, you are a human being, not a human doing.” http://www.lesliesholly.wordpress.com

  3. Miss K.

    Well, I had a similar experience growing up. While I was 16 and in driver’s ed class, I got in a car accident (while the instructor was sitting right there in the passenger seat). I remember so clearly before that class, that I just didn’t feel like driving that day – – I just felt “off”. Luckily, no one was hurt, but I remember feeling so scared when I saw the damage to the other car, but then relieved when I found out that nobody was hurt.
    Anyway, that didn’t bode well for my teenage driving career, and I ended up not getting my license until I was 18. I survived! And I jokingly say that I got my accident out of the way – – no more in the following 20+ years (knock on wood).
    Strangely enough, being in that accident was a “religious experience” for me. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that sensation of time standing still, but it definitely happened during the moments of that accident. I had a sense that the usual human experience of time ticking by,second by second, is not necessarily the ultimate, or only, reality.

    1. That must have been terrifying. Yes, I have had similar experiences. Once when I was almost run over by my own car and saw the tire rolling up toward me–it was definitely slow motion and there was no panic, just the actual thought, “Well, I guess this is it.” And another time when we were hit by a drunk driver and propelled into the side of a house. It was surreal and seemed to last forever, and again I thought I was going to die but was not scared. Leslie Sholly “Take time just to be. Remember, you are a human being, not a human doing.” http://www.lesliesholly.wordpress.com

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  6. I tried to get my oldest grandchild to get her permit/license to drive at 15 1/2. She had good grades. She was such a blessing. She never got into trouble. Anyway, she told me that she didn’t want her license because “she liked being taken where she wanted/needed to go”. So she was over 18 years old before she went to take her test. I did let her drive. We lived on a dead end street almost at the end of it and she would take the car to the dead end and turn it around in the mornings before school. I also let her take the garbage to the dumpster when we went camping. Her school drooped drivers ed before she could take it that is why I let her do some driving in a controlled conditions.

  7. I love how you explained your stance in the last part – you’re not a helicopter parent, you just want to keep your kids safe! Great read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. My parents didn’t allow me to drive. They forced me to get a job when I was 15, which I don’t regret, but wouldn’t allow me to even get my permit not because of accidents, but because they were worried I would leave the physically abusive household.
    After high school, working at a job with mandatory overtime, carpooling because I left the house before my senior year even finished. I didn’t have time to get my license.
    I walked to the grocery store even while pregnant because food came before a license.
    I couldn’t buy a car with the permit I eventually found the time to get.
    Later, married and still without a license. I’m home with the kids at all times while caring for my husband’s aging Grandma in the family house out of town that constantly needs repairs. My husband works late and needs to go grocery shopping because I’m unable to go.
    I’m nearly 30 and still don’t have a license because the best time for me to get it was taken from me.
    I have met others in the same or similar boat: Nearly 30 and just now or still haven’t taken the drivers test for the first time.
    I appreciate the care the writer has for their children, but keeping them from driving now is denying them the experience they need and the time they have now to get it done won’t be there in the future.
    If the concern is accidents, why not allow them a permit so when they move out, they have the experience under their belt and can get their license.
    They will drive eventually and either they learn now and have experience or later with less experience and no leisure time to gain experience in a conductive atmosphere.

      1. I’m sorry. The phone I’m using tends to jump around when I’m scrolling. I must have missed that part when it jumped.
        I’m glad they’re getting practice with you. 🙂

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