License to drive
On a parent's unquestionable love, fixing a carburetor, and the importance of learning how to drive
No rite of passage should escape periodic re-examination. And it would seem that, at least in some quarters, the rite of obtaining one's first driver's license is undergoing a revival of scrutiny.
■ There is an obvious case to be made that obtaining a driver's license is a relic of America's engine-obsessed past. Some would even argue that we are doing the next generation a favor by focusing their time on practices that will better serve them in a world full of mass transit and walkable spaces. Time not spent in driver's education class, the thinking goes, is time that can be spent on an extracurricular activity with better returns in the college admissions process.
■ But unlike certain specific driving-related practices (like learning how to drive a stick shift or fix a carburetor), the general need to know how to drive a vehicle has not been obviated entirely by technology. Driving is a skill that is not only widely useful in personal life, it is still often applicable in professional life, too, as well as in a wide number of trades. Whether one ends up as a long-haul trucker, a corporate attorney rushing to meet filing deadlines, or a shipping department supervisor running a forklift, the essences of a steering wheel and an accelerator pedal must be known.
■ Sure, you may choose to live in a place like New York, with lots of mass transit. But that doesn't mean you won't travel to other places -- for work or for leisure -- that won't require you to rent a car or take a long-distance road trip. For now at least, it remains inescapable that driving is a part of basic personal functioning for the vast majority of Americans. Sure, you might be able to virtualize many of your interactions, but there's no enduring substitute for being in the same time and space with your friends.
■ Even with self-driving vehicles, we may remain a car-dependent nation for some time to come. And there is no reason for anyone within a car-dependent nation who is physically and mentally capable of driving to be completely dependent upon others to do the driving.
■ Adolescence is a time for trying new things, learning how to fail safely, and figuring out how to be both resilient and self-sufficient. Parents have to encourage their children along that road: As a parent, your unconditional love and support should be both obvious and unquestionable. But everyone needs to go through a process to earn self-respect, and it's for the best if that starts by trying new things (and sometimes failing) when the stakes are low. That time is in childhood and adolescence.
■ It's a fallacy for parents to try to pack adolescent resumes in order to impress others, instead of training and guiding those adolescents to become self-sufficient and capable adults. Like it or not, your kid becomes an adult in the eyes of the law on their 18th birthday. That's some heavy, heavy reality. And at least for now (and for some time to come), American adults will need to know how to drive.