My first car was a Ford Pinto. It was traffic-sign yellow and had a stick shift transmission so I couldn’t even drive it home after buying it. But it was mine, all mine, bought with $500 of my own hard-earned cash. I had it painted bright blue and spent a weekend learning to drive it. I was just out of my freshman year in college.
It makes me feel like an old crank, but I’m amazed at how many of my son’s friends have been given brand new cars. These are kids who just got their driver’s licenses. In other words, 16-year-old children with little more than 60 hours behind the wheel are getting wheels of their own.
I had heard that kids all had their own cars, but I guess part of me just didn’t really believe it. When I told my husband about our son’s friends, he had a similar reaction to mine, along the lines of “you’re freaking kidding me.”
Our son felt us out about buying him a car. He quickly shifted to pointing out all the reasons we should buy a second car for the family to share. When I noted that we already successfully share one car and can’t afford a second car, he piped down, but I’m pretty sure the pressure will be on again once he’s fully licensed.
I know my son’s friends. They are great kids, but I also know that teens are statistically a bad lot when they get behind the wheel. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. In 2009, about 3,000 teens in the US were killed in motor-vehicle crashes. In contrast, heroin overdose killed 2,000 people—adults and teens.
Teens are four times more likely than older drivers to crash. That risk is particularly high during the first year that teens are eligible to drive. I’m not saying my son and his friends shouldn’t drive at all but there is no way I’m giving my son 24/7 access to something that is a proven killer, particularly of boys.
Maybe I’m deluded, but I believe that when my son has to ask permission to drive my car, he will drive more carefully. Certainly, I’ll have more control over when he drives and, to some extent, where. He’s welcome to the car when I’m not using it and for as long as he drives responsibly. My hope is that by the time he’s saved enough money to buy his own car, he’ll have matured enough to handle the freedom having his own set of wheels will give him.
I have lots of fond—and not so fond—memories of my old car. Fitting a bunch of sorority girls into it for a pancake run stands out. Breaking down on I-57 on Easter Sunday is a low light. But the most important thing I remember about it is that I earned it.
Would you buy your teen a car? Who bought you your first car? Tell us in comments.