The first time I held the steering wheel of a moving vehicle, I couldn’t have been more than five or six. I sat on my dad’s lap and helped him steer while we made lazy turns around the residential side streets near our house. It was the early 80s and we weren’t overly concerned with seatbelts. Air bags weren’t even a thing yet.
There were also countless miles logged on family road trips that kept us driving into the wee hours of the night before pulling over to sleep at the side of the road, to occasionally pitch a tent in a camp site and to sometimes even check into a lonely motel. My dad to taught my brother and I to read all the highway signs, keep our eyes alert to changes in the road markings and know exactly what they meant.
So by the time I had my first driving lesson as a teen, I was pretty sure I had this driving thing in the bag. Seriously, have you even seen me on the bumper cars? I’m amazing. My dad took me down to Cherry Beach and had me drive the old Chevy Malibu (or was it the Buick Skylark?) around the old industrial streets and over the rickety drawbridges. The car was so old and the power steering so far gone that I had to use some muscle to keep the car on course. I still remember the thrill of steering a newer car years later for the first time. So this is how easy it could be!
Because despite my cocky teenaged confidence and early start behind the wheel, I didn’t end up getting my driver’s license until I was 28 years old. My downtown high school sat directly across the street from the Ontario government building where you took the written test. I often ate lunch in the cafeteria over there. But I just couldn’t seem to get it together enough to write the test.
Part of the reason was that graduated licensing was first introduced in the months right before my birthday. I remember just missing the cutoff. While other friends were flaunting their 365, I’d be stuck with a lousy G1. The main difference was that the 365 was a learning permit that allowed you to take a road test and get your full license in a matter of weeks. The G1 was the first stage in a new, drawn-out, graduated licensing process that meant I would have to wait an entire year before I could take the road test and get my full license. That is, it would be a full year if I ever bothered to get the ball rolling and take the bloody G1 which I didn’t because what was the point? A year! Such an unfathomable stretch of time.
Sure, I meant to, but the urgency was lost and I just didn’t get around to it. It’s also not as though anybody was going to buy me a car if I got my license. And, what’s more, it’s not as if I even needed it to get around. Public transit in Toronto (for all it’s naysayers) is a wonderful thing and I was able to roam the city, end-to-end, at all hours of the day and night, on nothing but a couple fares.
Part of me wonders now if teenagers should even have licenses at all. I worked briefly in the medical records department of the Toronto Rehab hospital and there was file after file of very young men with debilitating brain injuries because they were being stupid behind the wheel. Isn’t it better to just wait until you’re older and more acutely aware of your own mortality?
Clearly that’s not an answer for everyone. A driver’s license represents freedom and independence in less urban areas. I get that. And it would have been much easier for me to learn to drive if I was still living at home with my parents. I would also have benefited from having some sort of insurance record before buying my first car. But when I consider some of the decisions I did make in my late teens and early twenties, I’m glad driving a car wasn’t part of the picture.
When did you get your license? And when do you expect your kids will get theirs? Are you freaking out about it?
This drive down the Cherry Beach memory lanes was sponsored by g1.ca. They’ve launched a fantastic Sign the Pledge campaign that gets both teens and parents discussing the massive responsibility that comes with driving. Check it out.