How did we get here?
I remember seeing a commercial a few years back. It featured a young teen who asked her dad for the keys to the car. When he looked at her, he saw a three year old with pig-tails and a tutu. Today, I can say that commercial captured perfectly what it felt like the first time my 16 year old drove without me. As he drove away, I prayed (a whole lot!) and wrestled with fear. Was everything I had taught him on teen driving safety enough? Did I teach him everything he needed to know? Was he prepared?
He was, and we both survived! I‘ve also discovered there are some pretty sweet advantages of having a teen driver — like chauffeuring and errand running! I am once again embarking on this journey of teen driving, this time with my second oldest son. As I write this, I am asking myself: What do I need to learn from my mistakes and possibly change? Will what I did with my oldest work for all of his siblings? After all, we have to walk through this with four more kids!
One thing I believe I did right was starting early. When the kids were in car seats, we discussed stop signs, lights, and blinkers. We talked about putting our seat belts on and phones up. I shared the dangers of texting while driving. It was so much easier back when I had their eyes and ears captive! All of those years of carpooling and practices, I tried to model good driving habits. They must have listened some because now they never miss a chance to point out when I’m not following the rules!
Drivers education, for the win
Before my son turned 15, we required that he read the driving test manual and download the state driving test app for phones. The driving permit test covers the information in the book, and the app has practice tests. We researched and found we could sign up online for the test so we could bypass the long lines. Once my oldest passed and had his permit, we started practicing in parking lots, neighborhoods, and eventually, the roads.
We had heard drivers ed was a great way to help teens learn and practice. He was able to take drivers ed over the summer and complete the course on driving safety. It helped in many ways. The teacher taught safety precautions and procedures. The class offered opportunities for my son to drive and get feedback from his teacher. Completing the class qualified him for lower insurance rates. The bonus? He took the actual test with his driving instructor — a game changer! He passed and was given a certificate to turn in when he turned 16. Upon doing so, he was issued his actual drivers license.
Practice, practice, practice
Once he passed the test, he was still responsible to complete more hours of driving. He drove almost every day. However, one mistake we made was not giving him various routes to practice or in different types of weather. Many times our city requires drivers to get on highways and interstates and take shortcuts to avoid traffic jams. We now know we did not give him enough experience. We also wish we had started earlier in exposing him to driving early — perhaps with the family boat.
When our children get their license, they will not automatically earn the privilege to drive. Research shows that teen accidents are mainly due to inexperience. They all start driving short distances once we think they are ready. As they gain experience, they earn more driving time. They also are not allowed to drive with friends or with any distractions such as music. We made it a point to teach our oldest sons basic safety such as: seat belts, no texting, no playing with your phone or radio.
They know to be respectful with the police. They are required to text us anytime before they get on the road. We have stressed safety and awareness when out at night. They also have an app where we can see where they are, if they’re using phones, and how they are driving. This is for our peace of mind and to hold them accountable. These rules are not because we don’t trust them, but we know they are still kids learning and capable of mistakes. We want to walk alongside them on this journey.
They also know that if for some reason they are running late, they are to call us to let us know — not race home. We’ve practiced different scenarios they might face. What if they find themselves in a situation where they shouldn’t be driving? Then they have permission to text or call us with no questions asked — as long as it is not an emergency situation involving someone else. We will discuss the situation at a later time but the goal is to get home safely. Much of what we are preparing our boys for has come from our own experiences. Life lessons we have learned influence how we teach our kids.
Teaching safety to my Black son
My youngest son is a handsome, joy-filled kiddo who happens to have the most beautiful brown skin and black curls (I am not biased at all!). I know I don’t have the experience or perspective needed to teach him what he needs to know. Thankfully, I have been blessed with some dear, beautiful, wise black women I am honored to call friends. I would be foolish to not ask them questions, listen, and learn from their wisdom on the topic of driving safety.
I want to stress that I respect the police. I come from a family who are in law enforcement. However, I cannot deny that, in light of current events playing out on a national stage, we have a problem. To acknowledge this is not to be against the police; after all, there are many good ones. As moms, we long for safety for not only our own kids but all. When we saw George Floyd cry out for his mom, every mom who witnessed that cried. We felt it in our bones as mothers. I believe listening, learning, and raising awareness are steps towards safety for all.
What I have learned
Many of my black friends’ concerns are the same as mine. We definitely have the same goal as moms — we want our kids to come home safe! However, after talking to my friends, I found another common denominator which was unique to them — an underlying fear and concern for their black sons unlike any I’ve experienced with my white sons.
I’ve listened as one friend told me how her husband was pulled over numerous times simply because he had a nice car. He went and bought an older used one because of the stress and fear. Another shared how her brothers shake when a policeman drives up behind them because of trauma birthed out of past experiences. I’ve learned of black sons who don’t want to drive because they are afraid for their lives.
My friends’ rules
These stories are not my family’s experiences. However, that does not make my black friends’ stories untrue. My friends graciously shared how they are preparing their sons. Their lists included some of what I’ve taught my own but also things I never would have considered. The following sums up some of the common concerns many black moms are dealing with and things they teach their sons and daughters:
- Make sure your license and registration are visible and easily accessible in the car.
- Keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times if pulled over by a policeman.
- If pulled over, park in a well-lit and populated area.
- Do not go to the ATM at night, ever.
- Do not wear hoodies.
- Do not wear baseball caps to the side or back.
- Do not wear bandanas.
- Do not wear “wife beater” shirts.
- Do not wear sagging pants.
- Do not play around in stores. Do not linger inside or outside a store.
- If you buy something, ALWAYS get a receipt. Do not open it in the store.
- Do not touch things in a store and then put your hands in your pockets.
- Do not be out late.
I’m so thankful for friends who allow me to ask these questions and trust me with their stories. I can’t afford to not listen. My son cannot afford it. It breaks my heart that things are this way. I now have a different lens through which I see.
Moms, regardless of our background, race, religion, politics — whenever we find ourselves on this teen driving journey, we will find we are more alike than different. We all want safety for our kids. It’s a hard, terrifying job to relinquish control of our kids and let them go out into this world. I’m finding there is more anxiety and worry for our precious fellow moms of color. However, I believe that as moms we have the power to diffuse some of that fear in each other. When we listen, learn, and encourage one another, we unite. Even though we may not have the same experiences we can still use our voices to support each other. I can testify that we need all the encouragement we can get! It’s a bumpy journey. Let’s grab hands, stand up for each other and cheer each other on.