Wisdom > Spoiler

The serious danger of young, new drivers

Many of them are totally unqualified motorists

Many young drivers are just too excited to operate a car. PHOTO FROM NISSAN

July 11, Wednesday, around 3:30pm: I was entering a mall parking lot to get food for my meeting with our tech support team, when I saw the security guard frantically guiding the driver of a subcompact crossover SUV. The driver—whom I couldn’t see as the car’s windows were tinted—was having a difficult time maneuvering the vehicle around a concrete pillar. Which I found weird because the spot wasn’t particularly tight. There was definitely more than enough room to execute the right turn the driver was trying to make. Here, take a look…

We gnashed our teeth while the small crossover scraped against the concrete pillar. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

The car had come from the right sight of the photo, going to the left side and making a right. But then the driver turned very early, which caused the right rear side of the vehicle to come in contact with the pillar. So the guard stopped the driver and asked him or her to back up to avoid damaging some obviously brand-new sheet metal. (I was just sitting still as all of this was happening; I couldn’t move as the crossover was right in my path.) Lo and behold, the driver proceeded with the premature turn—causing the guard to let out a shocked and frustrated yell. But it was too late: The right rear door of the car had scraped the pillar.

I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. Not only was there ample space to safely clear the turn, the driver also benefited from the assistance of a spotter. In my head, I was already drawing a mental picture of the driver: an 80-year-old person with eyeglasses as thick as a politician’s face. But that picture couldn’t have been farther from reality.

The driver parked by the curb presumably to check the abuse he or she had just inflicted on the poor crossover. Meanwhile, I quickly looked for an available slot and walked back to the scene. As I approached the vehicle, it became apparent to me that the damage was far worse than I had thought it to be. It was bad. The paint job got peeled off, and the door panel received a sizable depression. But the surprise I got from seeing it was nothing compared to my amusement when I eyed the driver, who turned out to be a very young lady (possibly 18 or 19 years old) whose facial expression registered nothing but confusion and horror. Exactly the range of emotions we had in college whenever we had to tell our parents we had flunked a subject.

She then got back inside the car—she was alone—and made a turn toward where I was standing. I kid you not: She again very nearly hit the curb with her right rear wheel. Fortunately, I was able to swiftly tap on the car’s hood to get her attention. I motioned for her to stop and slowly back up. While she was trying to do this, she stepped on the gas and the car jerked forward. Again, I tapped the hood hard. I signaled for her to roll down her window. I told her to put the gear lever in reverse and then to turn the steering wheel all the way to the right before giving the accelerator a gentle dab. When she had extricated herself from this second pickle, she parked the car in a proper area. One thing was evident: She didn’t really know how to drive.

Parents, make sure your kids are level-headed and disciplined enough to resist the temptation of showing off to their peers and doing stupid things to impress their friends

I introduced myself and asked her what had happened. Things got really interesting.

First, the car was new. According to the driver, it was merely a month old. It certainly looked like it.

Second, the driver didn’t have a license. What she had was a student permit, which meant she wasn’t allowed to drive alone. When I asked her why she was driving by herself, she said no one was available to accompany her.

Third, she was smart enough to realize on her own that her insurance company wouldn’t pay for the repair if it found out she had been driving the car with just a student permit. When she asked me how much it would cost her to have the car fixed, I quoted an exaggerated amount just to make her grasp the gravity of what she had done.

Fourth, when I told her to call her parents to notify them of the situation, she said she couldn’t because they were overseas. I said she could call her guardian then. She seemed reluctant to do so, and it occurred to me that she might have taken out the car without securing permission from whoever was looking after her.

Before I left her, I told the inexperienced driver to get an incident report from the mall’s administration office. I also gave her a short lecture on why she shouldn’t be driving with just a student permit. I pointed out to her that if she ever got into an accident with another vehicle, she’d most likely be held accountable even if the other motorist was at fault, just because she didn’t have a license. Worse, she’d get in a world of trouble if she ended up maiming or killing somebody on the road. A scenario that wasn’t too far-fetched, judging by her driving skills.

Kids, I know it’s cool to drive your own car by yourself. I know having your own ride makes you popular in your circle. But please treat a motor vehicle with all the respect you could accord it. It’s a helpful tool, yes, but it’s also a potential weapon if you don’t know what you’re doing. Just because you know how to turn a key, put the shifter in drive and step on the accelerator doesn’t mean you’re a capable motorist. You’ll be sharing the road with countless other drivers and pedestrians—you have a responsibility toward every single one of them.

Parents, I know you want only the best for your children. So you buy them their own personal car. That’s okay. But before you do—before you succumb to their adorable supplication—make sure they’re truly ready to operate a fast-moving machine. That they’re level-headed and disciplined enough to resist the temptation of showing off to their peers and doing stupid things just to impress their friends.

Being young and learning how to drive are two of the most exhilarating experiences in life. But they could also derail plans and dreams if one isn’t careful. All it takes is one wrong maneuver.

Vernon B. Sarne

Vernon is the founder and editor-in-chief of VISOR. He has been an automotive journalist since July 1995. He became one by serendipity, walking into the office of a small publishing company and applying for a position he had no idea was for a local car magazine. God has watched over him throughout his humble journey. He writes the ‘Spoiler’ column.