“I want to learn someday how to drive a car.”

From the Thankful Journal, 1999 and almost seven years old

Well folks, that day is here. Actually, he has been learning to drive a car for almost a year now, thanks to the State of Illinois’ requirements for new drivers: he needed 50 hours on his permit before obtaining an actual license. The thirteen-year-old will need 100 hours, due to the requirements recently increasing again. I’m fine with it. There have been many teen-aged deaths due to car accidents over the past many years and Illinois is doing something about it (probably–hopefully–along with many other states. Each hour behind the wheel is, well, an hour of more experience that is truly valuable. How many other skills do kids learn that will carry them through the rest of their lives? Okay, probably alot. But this is a biggie. We’ve come a long way from having no other requirement than taking a quarter of driver’s ed class in high school and then just skipping on down to the DMV on our 16th birthday to pick up that little laminated rectangle. Now, teens really have to “work” for their license.

Well, the ones with responsible parents do. It’s the other ones that should still be a concern, the ones whose parents will sign off their 50 hours when they’ve really done far fewer, because the parents “don’t have time” to work with them. I wonder if those parents would be forgiving of that excuse if another kid–with far fewer than 50 hours–critically injured, or dare I say killed, their child? But that’s for another post; it’s obviously an issue I feel strongly about.

So, over the past year, driving practice has gone really well. When he did his six hours with his official instructor, he got an “A” and his instructor constantly raved about what a good driver he was. That’s always a good sign. It’s hard to believe that about a year ago, he and I were spending twenty minutes at a time in a nearby church parking lot, and most of what came out of his mouth was “Oops!”. His progress (Thank you, State of Illinois and your 50-hour requirement!) has been amazing.

But not completely uneventful.

We were finishing up his night driving hours on Monday–and also practicing the maneuvers he needed to know for his driving test, when he almost made me cry. He was backing out of a driveway to turn around and I suddenly heard a screech. I thought he had backed into a car but thankfully it was only a mailbox. I made some kind of noise (a scream, maybe? Can’t remember) and he stopped, totally shocked. I said, “You hit the mailbox…go forward!” He did, and the mailbox, thankfully, was totally fine. When we returned home where we had light, we went to check the damage on my car and found this:

It’s about six inches long and Ugly with a capital U. I was mortified, and he was horrified. My car is 2 1/2 years old. I didn’t yell or scream; frankly, it could have happened to anybody, even me! I was just a little upset about the damage and what we would have to do to fix it.

We calmed down and went to the auto parts store yesterday to get a kit so that we can get rid of that ugly blemish, and we’ll probably do it this weekend.

This morning, we headed down to the DMV nice and early to try and avoid the inevitable crowds. Here’s the scene of the “crime”:

I was getting a little emotional as I watched him go through the motions of showing the examiner that he knows how to operate the turn signals and all that jazz:

He took his road test, passed it, and got his license! Woo hoo! He totally has a serial killer-ish smirk on his face in his official license photo. That quality he gets from his dad, because Jim’s license is sort of scary too. (so proud: LOL)

Here’s our family’s newest driver:

Here he is with his brother, who is very excited to finally get to sit in front while his brother is driving:

And lastly, here he is, sniff sniff, driving to Walgreens to turn in some film for developing on an errand strictly made up for his first day of driving pleasure:

I know, I know: the image is blurry. But that’s life when you’re a parent, right? It goes by too quickly.

With such an important milestone looming over us for the past few months, I knew it was time to start working up another list of rules, just to put it all “out there” for him. Since my last major venture with this method was so well-received out in cyber-land, I’m posting, for your enjoyment and possibly your own usage, the Wells Family Rules of the Road:

1. Attached you will find the special Illinois laws for drivers younger than 18. These are obviously in addition to all of the other driving laws; Make sure you know these very, very well because you are responsible for following them.

2. Seatbelts. Always. Do not move the car until everyone in it is wearing a seatbelt; no exceptions.

3. You will cover the $100/month it will cost to carry your car insurance. We will pay for gasoline, unless this benefit is taken advantage of (see number 5).

4. You will keep your Grade Point Average at a 3.0 or higher in order to continue receiving the Good Student Insurance Discount. If your GPA falls and your insurance goes up, you will pay the additional amount.

5. You are not allowed to drive around just for the purpose of driving. As you know, gasoline is very expensive these days and shouldn’t be wasted. You should only drive when you need to get somewhere. If we see that you are driving excessively, we will talk about how much gasoline you will need to pay for.

6. You will be responsible for fines accrued by any sort of speeding ticket or other violation.

7. You must notify us immediately of any violations.

8. We hope that you will make responsible decisions when in a social environment and refrain from drinking alcohol until you are 21 years old (and refrain from drug usage altogether). That said, should you make an error in judgment, you must not drink and drive. You must not get into the car of another person who would be drinking and driving. You must call us to come and get you, no questions asked, and we will discuss it the following day.

9. You may not use your cell phone for talking or texting while driving at any time. If you need to communicate with someone via phone, you must pull over safely to a spot that is acceptable before using the phone.

10. Don’t assume that a family car will always be available for your use. You must communicate to us when you would like to use the car and if it’s not available, you will have four options: Arrange with us to drive you, Arrange to get a ride with someone else, Ride your bike if it’s safe, or Change your plans. It will help us all out if you use the kitchen calendar to write down when (and where) you have arranged to take one of the cars.

11. Sharing the cars means that we all have to help keep them clutter-free. You are already pretty good at it; let’s keep it that way!

12. If you get into a car accident, you should do the following things (we will keep a copy of this in each car):
A. Remain calm.
B. Check for injuries.
C. If it’s a minor accident and nobody is seriously injured, move the cars to a safe place. Otherwise, just stay put.
D. Turn on the hazard lights.
E. Call the police, even in the case of a minor accident.
F. If the other person is trying to leave before the police arrive (assuming this is a minor accident), do your best to at least get their name, contact information, and insurance information.
G. Do not have a back-and-forth conversation with the other driver over what happened. Tell your story to the police.
H. Do NOT leave the scene before the police officer tells you it’s okay.
I. Call us at your earliest convenience after all of this, and when it’s safe.

13. Remember this (Advice originally given to Mom from Grandpa W. when she got her license): A car is not just a mode of transportation; it’s also a weapon. It is dangerous and can kill, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. BE CAREFUL.

14. Abuse of these rules and/or the laws of the state will get your license suspended by us.

15. We are excited for you and very proud of you during this important milestone in your life! You’ve become a really good driver (well, except for that mailbox thing…but that can happen to anyone!) and we look forward to giving you this added responsibility!

Yikes, everybody! My son has a license!!!