(Bitter) Sweet 16 Series: One Mom’s Drive to Survive

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Written by: Tara Maciulewicz


Well it happened – my daughter Maddi recently celebrated her Sweet 16. Personally, I see nothing sweet about it. They’re already sassy little people and now we introduce the idea that they’re capable and mature enough to operate a 4,000-pound vehicle? On real roads? Next to pedestrians? And other moving vehicles? Help!

Maddi already knew the cards were stacked against her since I work for an insurance company. I see the staggering stats–in 2012, nearly 3,000 13-19-year-olds were killed in auto accidents, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That’s enough to make me want to bubble-proof her for life, but I know that’s not realistic. So I do what every other parent in America does and deal with my girl growing up (sniff, sniff).

Before we get to driving, though, the teen needs a driver’s permit. If you’re in the same boat as me, here’s what has to happen.

Step 1: Obtain the driver’s license permit. In Pennsylvania, teens can get their permit as soon as they turn 16 (check your state’s department of motor vehicles to find out specifics for your state). A couple of points to keep in mind, parents:

  • Teens need to study. Pick up the driver’s license permit book a few weeks prior to the 16th birthday. They need to study, and the answers aren’t all obvious ( I even found myself struggling through a few questions). There are also handy apps created by the state DMV that Maddi downloaded to her phone so she could take practice tests.
  • Be sure you obtain the necessary forms--and fill them out before you visit the driver’s license center for the permit test.
  • Take your teen for a physical before you take the permit test. The physical has to be within the last six months (of course it does…my daughter’s last one was 8 months ago). The physician fills out part of the form, so make sure you take it with you to the appointment.
  • Plan ahead or else you’ll end up like me — overbooked. On her birthday (fortunately a Saturday) we spent time getting a physical, picking up the cake and snacks and going to her brother’s basketball tournament – all before making it to the driver’s license center. I should have planned better and taken her to the physical before her birthday.
  • Bring your teen’s ID and check the driver’s license center office hours. For driver permit tests, you do NOT need to make an appointment (only for driving exams). Make sure you bring two proofs of identity (typically your child’s Social Security card and birth certificate). It’s a busy place, but I have to say I was really impressed at how well organized the process went. After a 10-minute wait, our number was called and my daughter was about to take her test. I felt anxious for her, but she nailed it.
  • Your insurance won’t increase…just yet. YEAH! However, you should call your agent and have your teen added as a non-driver (for which there is no charge). Once he or she becomes licensed, your agent can move the teen from non-driver to driver. Also, my Agent – like so many other Erie Insurance Agents — meets with their soon-to-be drivers and explains the significance of what’s at stake.

Step 2: Start teaching. If your teen’s school offers driver’s ed, that’s awesome. Ours doesn’t, and I chose not to foot the bill for a driving school. That means I’m tackling this job myself. Learning how to drive, of course, doesn’t happen overnight. Learning requires practice, practice and more practice.

  • Log it. Teens in Pennsylvania need to log at least 65 driving hours (you’ll receive a logbook once your teen passes his or her permit test) and wait at least six months before they can get a license. While this new, longer time period may seem unfair to teens (and inconvenient to some parents), consider that it helps make teens safer drivers. And logging hours forces new drivers to drive in a variety of situations – bad weather, nighttime, highway, etc.

This could very well be one of the most important things I ever teach Maddi. It takes commitment. It takes patience (I’ll admit this is in short supply at my house). And it takes letting go (yes, I find it scary that I don’t have a brake on my side of the car!).

That said, lots of parents have survived the painful teen driving process–so it can’t be that bad, right? Well, I’ll let you know. Follow Maddi and me on our journey to earn the coveted driver’s license (she is eligible on Aug. 22) by checking back at eriesense.com to hear my true tales from the driver’s side seat. (In the meantime, check out even more helpful tips for parents of teen drivers.)

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