"Federal data released Friday underscore a striking national shift," the article reported. "30.7 percent of 16-year-olds got their licenses in 2008, compared with 44.7 percent in 1988."
I've seen it myself. Fewer and fewer teens I've encountered seem in such a hurry these days to get their licenses. Maybe they're too busy with school or just overly comfortable with let someone else shuttle them around. Or maybe, 30 years ago, we who were turning driving age where still smitten by the American love affair with the car, a dominant feature of our our zeitgeist then. Maybe that love affair is cooling off.
Whatever the reason, my oldest daughter is not among those who would rather wait. She's 16 and a half and feels her time to take the wheel on her own is long overdue. Since she was 15, she has literally been counting the days until she could get her permit and then take the test for a full license.
In many ways, she's a lot more prepared for this moment than I am. The truth is, while I knew the day would come, it sort of jumped out at me. I realize now that I was doing all I could not to think about it. Probably much like those kids who are putting off learning to drive, I was happy to let adolescence last a few more years.
Oh, I see the benefits of her getting her license. We will have another driver in the house, which will take some of the burden off of my wife's shoulders (mostly during the week) and my own (mostly on the weekends), and she will win some of the independence she naturally craves. Also, before she moves farther from the nest, I will at least know that she's had a couple of years under our relatively close watch to perfect her driving skills.
But I have to say that teaching her to drive has not been the most enjoyable moment in my tenure as a parent. Not because of my daughter. She's been responsible and learned well; I'm confident she'll be fine on the road. (Hint: Someone told me a couple of years ago to start the lessons in a cemetery, where there are few cars and wide, usually well-kept roads. It was a great suggestion.)
But it's very difficult to turn such a potentially dangerous task over to someone for the first time. And it's just as hard to sit back and hope it all works out. I confess to being a little too quick to bark out a command, issue a warning or, worst of all, occasionally grab for the wheel. In some instances, the admonishment was called for. But most of the time it just reflected my own anxiety with getting through such a trying, but inevitable passage in life -- for me and for her.
Also, like a lot of tasks we teach our children, I've realized that each of us has our own personal driving style. Some of us drive fast and closely behind other cars; others are more deferential and even hesitant. Some step on the gas when they see a yellow light, while others back off and stop. Some hold the wheel at 10 and 2 o'clock, and others hold it at 8 and 4 -- or with one hand on the top. This is why married couples shouldn't drive with one another too much; it can test their patience.
Like many other turning points in my child's life, this has been a lesson not just for her but for me, too. I have had to learn to trust, to let go, to take my foot off the imaginary brake pedal on the passenger side of the car and let her drive on to the next stage in her life, even as the stakes of failure have just gotten higher.
The truth is, I'm glad she's ready to get on with becoming a driver, soon than later. It's a step she needs to take, and so do I.