McFeely: The terror of having a teenaged driver

MOORHEAD, Minn.--The idea of putting a 15-year-old child behind the wheel of a car weighing more than a ton and traveling more than 60 mph is insanity. America should be committed. Lock us up and throw away the key.

Mike McFeely, Oct. 17, 2015Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MOORHEAD, Minn.-The idea of putting a 15-year-old child behind the wheel of a car weighing more than a ton and traveling more than 60 mph is insanity. America should be committed. Lock us up and throw away the key.

Fifteen-year-olds cannot be trusted to put their dirty plates in the dishwasher and mine wouldn't have the slightest clue how to start a lawnmower, much less use one, and yet we willingly put them in control of hurtling machines of death and go about our business like nothing out of the ordinary is happening.

Committed, heck. We should be arrested.

I did not always feel this way, particularly 35 years ago. That's when I was 15 and champing at the bit to earn the right to drive, to be able to travel the world and discover its wonders by my own free will. My "world" at that time would be defined as the gymnasium at the high school in Alexandria, the golf course, the downtown Hardees and my buddy Brent Lervick's house.

I guess it seemed more wondrous at the time than it does now.


Four wheels meant freedom, to come and go as I pleased, to buzz the seven miles from the shores of Lake Carlos to downtown Alex whenever I wanted, for whatever reason. It meant never again having to utter the most deflating of all phrases for a teenaged boy, "Dad, can I have a ride to ...."

Which led to the inevitable, ugh, questions.


Because I'm going to meet the guys.

"What are you going to do?"

I don't know.

"I don't buy that. You must have plans."

Maybe we'll go to a movie or something.


"What time are you going to be done?"

I don't know. Why?

"Because I have to pick you up, right?"

Well, yeah.

"I'll pick you up at 9:30."

That early? C'mon! Why can't it be later? How about 11?

"Because I'm not driving back into town at 11 o'clock."



So the day couldn't arrive fast enough when I was 15 and could start taking steps toward a permit and, eventually, a license when I turned 16. I was, as is a pesky habit with me, singularly focused on this goal. My parents seemed less than enthusiastic. I thought they were just being fuddy duddies who wanted to keep the shackles on their wonderful little boy.

I have since learned otherwise.

They were terrified.

This I know because there is currently a 15-year-old residing in my Minnesota home. Allegedly. The signs of habitation are rare, sometimes limited to the closing and opening of her bedroom door and a fleeting appearance when food is served. But her mother and I do still consider her a legal resident.

The apparition-like 15-year-old has started the driving portion of the permitting process. She needs to compile hours of supervised driving before she can take the behind-the-wheel test and become a licensed driver. I was once part of this process, accompanying the 15-year-old as she practices driving the streets of Moorhead. No longer. I have been banned.

Apparently, I gasp.

I supposedly suck in air and make a whimpering, frightened sound when the young gal is driving. That upsets her. She doesn't want me around. Only her mother can accompany her.

I've been told I gasp when she pulls onto a street, when she turns a corner, when a car is approaching us from the opposite direction. I gasp when she gets too close to a parked car, when she's approaching a stop sign, when there are people walking on the street. When she starts, when she stops. I gasp. Allegedly.

She claims I gasped when a kid was riding a tricycle on a sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, but I think she made that up. She also said I continually jammed my right foot into the floor of the passenger side and frantically turned an imaginary steering wheel while I was with her, so who knows what's true?

To the extent I do these things, if I do them at all, it's because I'm terrified.

She is but a child, a still-developing young woman who cannot possibly be ready to drive a metal death machine down streets and highways filled with idiots, clowns and jackwagons. At least that's what I call them. Daily.

What if somebody goes through a red light and hits her? What if she goes through a red light and hits somebody? What if a kid runs out into the street in front of her? What if she's not looking when she backs up? What if she's going too fast? What if somebody slams on the brakes in front of her? What if a bird smashes through her windshield? What if a semi throws up a rock? What if a meteor falls on her car?

The possibilities are endless. The idea of exposing our teenaged sons and daughters to these dangers is madness. Fifteen years old is way too young to be driving. Same for 16. And 17.

I propose we change the driving age in this country to a uniform 18 years old. Or perhaps 21. I could probably be swayed to support 25.

But 15 or 16? That's potential child abuse. Teenaged freedom is overrated. Their safety should come first. Today's kids will understand someday. Probably in 25 or 30 years, when they are gasping and jamming their right foot into a brake that doesn't exist. Being terrified is a powerful influence.

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