Captain Obvious Reports: Sixteen-year-olds Maybe Shouldn’t be Licensed

Last week I heard a news story on the radio warning that sixteen-year-olds are too young to drive. According the the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group funded by the auto insurance industry, car crashes are the biggest reason kids die. They recommend increasing the licensing age.

According to an article I read, “More than 5,000 U.S. teens die each year in car crashes. The rate of crashes, fatal and nonfatal, per mile driven for 16-year-old drivers is almost 10 times the rate for drivers ages 30 to 59, according to the National Highway Safety Administration. Many industrialized countries in Europe and elsewhere have a driving age of 17 or 18.”

I don’t think that’s news to any of us, is it? These young teens are inexperienced, somewhat lacking in judgment and have a sense of invulnerability that has them take risks that perhaps they shouldn’t. New Jersey, the state where I grew up and got my drivers license, is the only state that says you must be seventeen to be licensed. And some states are as low as fourteen!

Now that’s surprising to me. Not that I loved waiting until seventeen. I was just as impatient as the next kid. Still, I was pretty mature, and I don’t think I would have been ready to fly solo at sixteen. And we’ve all been next to these youngest drivers on the road, watching as they have twelve people stuffed into the back seat of their Corolla, music blaring just enough to rupture the nearest eardrum, giggling and talking on their cell phones…

Graduated licensing, which has become the standard across the country in the past 15 years, requires teens to spend more time driving with a parent or other responsible adult before they go solo. Though these rules are sometimes difficult to enforce, many states tie these more stringent standards to declining teen crash rates. That’s a good thing, too. But is it enough?

In my years as an insurance agent I was the one who added the child to the parents’ policy, and I was the one who filed the claims as they came in. And came in they did. I thank G-d that I never had to report that a child had died, as I was in tears, struggling to maintain professionalism when I spoke to the families of adult clients that had been fatally injured in crashes. A child would have been…impossible.

Proponents for keeping the age at sixteen say that driving helps kids learn responsibility, and that increasing the age will make them less responsible. I do agree that it can be part of helping kids learn responsibility, but I don’t think that it follows that kids who have to wait an extra year are less responsible. In some cases I’ll bet they are more responsible…like when they have wait because they need to earn the money for their own insurance and car. A strategy which will be utilized in this household.

See, safety isn’t the only reason to have them wait to get licensed. Cost is another factor. I recall being seven months pregnant and daydreaming about the son that was soon to be born whilst blow drying my hair. All of a sudden I had an unhappy epiphany. “Oh. My. G-d. I’m going to have to pay boy car insurance rates!!!!”

Now that I’m a parent I realize that my responsibility to prepare my son to get his drivers license has many facets. Yes, he needs to know the mechanics of starting the car, switching gears, parallel parking, all of which he will be taught, ad naueum. He also needs to know and understand that cars, insurance and gas cost money. He will understand that because he will earn the money for all of the above before he’s permitted to get his license.

But that’s not all. He needs to understand that he’ll be driving more than a ton of metal, and that gives him not only the responsibility for his own life but the life of anyone in his car, and every other driver and pedestrian on the road. He needs to have empathy, and to know that getting there safely takes priority over getting there quickly. He needs to be secure enough in himself that he doesn’t need to show off for his friends by peeling out or doing donuts on someone’s lawn.

He needs enough of all of the above to not get behind the wheel when drinking. He also needs to not get in someone else’s car when they’ve been drinking, and have the strength and sense to prevent them from driving at all.

The thing is, no state law is going to teach my son these things. Only Husband and I can. So though I wouldn’t mind seeing the driving age raised, it’s really a non-issue to me.

Because we will decide when Son is ready to be licensed, not the state. I don’t care if the law says 14, 15, or 17 . Son will not drive until we, as parents, agree that he is ready. We are the law of this land. And we shall be fair and reasonable, and unafraid to say “No”.

Take The Park the Car Challenge

The price of gas has all of us, especially those of us with SUVs, crying into our cereal. I’m following lots of tips to save money on gas, but have come to the realization that the best way to save on gas is to simply drive less.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’ve started the Park the Car Challenge, and I’m the first to sign up. It’s very simple but not so easy.

What’s the Park the Car Challenge?

Well, you simply park it. The car, that is.

One day per week we’re not going to use the car for anything. No trips to the mall or the grocery store. No Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. And, bless us all, no gas stations.

No driving to the park or the library, but feel free to walk or bike. No driving to a friend’s, but go ahead and invite them over. Heck, you can invite your friends to take The Challenge too, and do things together.

Carpool with other participants to work, to the movies, or out for ice cream. We can really affect the price of gas, try to put the kabash on all that oil speculation, if we reduce our oil consumption. Supply and demand, my friends!

So what did we do on our first week of The Challenge?

We spent the morning making Play-doh poops and potties (at Son’s insistence), and then we went to the pool. While he napped I called my cable company and saved $52 a month, and then I called my cell phone company and saved another $20 a month (I reduced the number of minutes in our plan).

I also straightened up a few things and did some work relaying projects for my job.

So, on the one hand we have no money spent on gas. No money spent on lunch. No money spent at the store. No money spent, period. $70 per month saved on cable and phone bills.

On the other hand we have lots of togetherness. Lots of productivity. Lots of fun.

It was a smashing success!

This won’t work as easily when school starts, but it’s perfect for the dog days of summer. Unless – gasp!- we move our No Drive Day to the weekend.

Hmmm, that could get very interesting…

Do you have what it takes? I know you do! Want to join me?

You Know What I Did This Summer – Save Money!

The Life Network is running a Summer Savings Series with articles on how to save this summer. Here’s my entry!

Summer provides its own unique opportunities to save money. This summer is no exception, so I’m hot on the trail of ways to keep cool, and save money.

  1. Taking Son out of Preschool. I’ve been paying $50 per week for a year and a half to send Son to school two mornings per week. Since we’ll spend about a month on vacation this summer we decided to pull Son out of school. We’d already decided to switch him to a new school this August anyway (and under our state’s free Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program it will be free!), and since we would have had to pay for the four weeks he wasn’t there we thought we’d give him a true summer off.
  2. Planning our vacations to stay with family. Both of the vacations we planned this summer are to visit family. This is a win for us in many ways because we love to visit and spend time with our families, we love the areas where they live (New England and the mountains of North Carolina), and we save by not having to pay for our accommodations. That said, we try to be good guests by paying for meals for everyone, pitching in with chores and projects, and cleaning up after ourselves.
  3. Taking outgrown clothing to consignment. Now that I’m sure we won’t be having any more children (sniff) I finally found a couple of local consignment stores specializing in children’s clothing. I’ve already consigned a large amount of Son’s clothing, and plan to do more. The money we raise will go into our long-term savings, and we get the added bonus of less clutter!
  4. Driving less. Except for our one driving vacation, I’m doing a lot less driving this summer. I’m taking advantage of our community pool, and trying to cut down on my errands. I’m also following my own advice on how to save money on gas.
  5. More cold or barbecued dinners. Salads, sandwiches, corn on the grill. That’s what summer cuisine is all about. If it weren’t for the occasional trips to the ice cream store we’d save even more (Yes, I know we could buy or make it at home, but there’s just something about going to an ice cream parlor and sharing a summer evening in coned camaraderie with fellow connoisseurs…)!

What are you doing to save money this summer?

Change Some Habits, Save Some Gas. And Some Money.

A few months ago I wrote a post that gave Tips on Pumping Gas. It gives some pretty good ideas for stretching your dollar at the pump.

Today I went shopping with Son, and was lucky enough to get a parking space close to the store right away, as it’s previous occupant was pulling away as I drove up. Normally I will wait for a space, and so I got to thinking about what a waste of gas that is.

And so, a post is born.

Here are some things you can do to reduce your gas usage, save money and get healthier all at the same time:

1. Take the first available parking spot you see. Instead of driving up and down the aisles of the supermarket parking lot looking for the spot nearest the door, or sitting idle while someone loads their groceries and the triplets, just park. On nice days you can save a little more by pulling into the first available spot near the lot entrance. I might even – gasp- get some exercise. Say it isn’t so!

2. Minimize idling. Idling gets you zero miles per gallon. If you are at the bank, the drive-thru or chatting with a friend and are going to idle for a minute or less, leave your car on. If it’s going to be much longer than a minute you should turn off your car.

3. Plan your route. On errand runs go to the furthest place first, then backtrack. I’ve done this for years for the most part, but I’m slacking less.

4. Try new merchants. If your current dry cleaner is six miles away and there’s one with comparable prices right next to the supermarket, why not give the closer guy a try? You never know…

5. Walk more. If you’re going to several locations in relatively close proximity park your car in the middle and walk. Today Son and I went to a different Target than our usual one, located in a shopping center which unfortunately had a Chuck E. Cheese. Instead of driving from one end of the center to the other we walked. Secondary tip: Never, ever go to Chuck E. Cheese during Spring Break.

6. Use your cruise control. This method has actually been proven to save a lot of gas, as it reduces heavy acceleration and heavy use of the brake (I’ve always been a hard braker Get it?). A steady driving speed will improve fuel economy.

7. Use your bicycle. Ride it to work, or the grocery store, or the gym. I can’t wait for Son to be steady enough on a bicycle for us to use bicycles as transportation.

And the biggie.

8. Stay home. You don’t need to get dressed to go to Starbucks for overpriced coffee. You can sit in the comfort of your own home in your jammies with some nice music on the stereo. Now that the weather is getting better you can have the kids can play in the yard with their friends instead of driving to Chuck E. Cheese. Join Netflix (as little as $4.99 a month!) and have your movies delivered. Have a family game night and whip up some homemade (or heat some frozen) pizza instead of an expensive (and noisy!) visit to Chuck E. Cheese.

My goodness, what would become of our society if families spent more time at home together?

Sunday Drive

I love a long drive.

Yesterday Son and I drove over to the west coast (of Florida for those non-Floridians who assumed differently) to visit some friends. It’s a just under two hour drive, making it long enough to qualify as long, but short enough to hopefully not have to stop for a pee break (which can only be accomplished with a three-year-old if you refuse to let him drink anything an hour before you leave).

This journey involved taking I-75, affectionately knows as Alligator Alley, across South Florida. This is one of the few South Florida roads not crowded with condos and shopping malls and tourists in white knee socks (much love to those tourists, who keep our state income-tax free!). What you see along the ninety or so miles is sawgrass, a few trees, sawgrass, brush, flatlands, sawgrass and the occasional alligator and cow (though not usually hanging out together). And lots of sawgrass.
On trips like this my thoughts often focus inward. Having a great soundtrack enhances the experience. Yesterday I listened to James Taylor’s Greatest Hits, one of my all-time favorite albums. His earthy, soulful tunes always touch me in a place I can’t pinpoint, and that I’m sure is in no anatomy book.

It was a beautiful day, and as I drove I felt lots of emotions building up within me. I always feel an immense sense of freedom on the open road. Freedom and adventure, hope for what the future will bring, peace at having left whatever current problems and stresses behind. I feel stronger, happier, prettier, more powerful and effective – me at my best. I rejoice in the beauty of nature – the sawgrass swaying in the breeze, the blue sky and white puffy clouds, the cows resting in the shade of the lone tree in the pasture. I feel very close to G-d, and in those moments I am never more sure that He is up there, watching me enjoy life.

As I drive the miles I just feel invincible. Suddenly I can see new possible solutions to long-standing problems, my energy level soars, I forgive myself for my perceived flaws and re-commit myself to losing weight, getting more exercise, having more patience and using coupons. I think about the people in the cars around me, and I wonder about who they are and where they’re going. I wonder if they are having a similar experience, and I hope they are.

The joy I feel is incredible, and it often brings a tear to my eye. I look at my son, who always lives life as if he’s on the open road, and he smiles at me. I smile back.

Powerful stuff, that open road.

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