(August 14, 2006) Hear the audio version

I could feel every beat of my racing heart as my 16-year-old daughter pulled the little red Jetta back into the DMV parking lot. The girl right before Molly had failed her behind-the-wheel test. Her father was in the middle of a long and obviously spirited discussion with the DMV examiner. How about Molly? I knew, in spite of my thumping heart, that she was a good driver – I’d spent dozens of hours in the car with her over the last six months. She’s careful by nature. She’d even practiced driving around downtown Redwood City – not our normal stomping grounds, but now the neighborhood of our nearest DMV office. Yet anything can happen on those tests. We’d heard about one particularly tricky curb on the Redwood City route.

I stared at the back of the car, and waited. Finally Molly opened the driver’s door, got out, turned around, and gave me a thumb’s up with a smile. Whew! My youngest would be a licensed California driver. Today. Cross that milestone off for our family.

Now I could switch gears (so to speak) and start worrying about her being out on the road by herself. And by herself she will be, thanks to California’s graduated license program. For a year Molly can’t have passengers under 20 in the car with her, unless they have a note from a parent – a rather odd stipulation, but one we employ for driving the neighborhood carpool to the high school. Molly also can’t drive after 11 at night for a year. I approve. More crashes happen late at night. Experience behind the wheel helps avoid those accidents.

Driving is dangerous, and some California roads and freeways scarier every year. If Highway 17 were a roller coaster ride, the amusement park would be ordered to shut it down in a week. I never stop reminding my kids that automobiles are lethal weapons and crashes happen in an instant.

But I can’t, and I don’t want to put Molly in bubblewrap. California is a car culture whether I like it or not. And I trust that the Department of Motor Vehicles knew what it was doing when it granted her a California drivers license.

“Drive carefully, Molly.”

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.