The First Driving Lesson

Margaret Atkins MunroLet's Talk About MoneyLeave a Comment

Without question, there are economic realities, both good and bad, associated with driving. Most of us immediately focus on the cost of the car, its maintenance, the gasoline, registration, and the ever-increasing price of insurance. My father, who is a font of wisdom in all things mechanical, used to say the total for each car was approximately $5,000/year. Looking at my own records over the past several years, I think Dad did not adjust his number for inflation, but then again, he continues to do his own oil changes, and I pay to have mine done.

Still, paying for that car provides a certain degree of freedom – to work where I choose, to shop for the cheapest prices, to buy in bulk. I can fetch, carry and transport at will, any time of day or night, for any reason. It’s quite liberating.

Then there comes the day when you must begin passing that ability, and that freedom, onto your children. Now, in addition to the annual costs, you must include the following: the price of the learner’s permit, the tuition for a driver’s education course, the driving instructor’s fee if I’m not able (or willing) to do all the instruction myself, and eventually, the substantial hike in my car insurance premium.

This is all clearly in my mind, having recently returned from that rite of passage: the first driving lesson. Like so many before us, my son circled the high school parking lot in my old SUV while I attempted to remain calm in the passenger seat. So far, so good–our first half hour of supervised driving is now history, only 39.5 to go, according to the Vermont DMV rules and regulations.

I have very mixed thoughts about this venture. I am well aware that statistics show teenage boys are the most prone to driving accidents, that my car insurance rates are about to mushroom, and that I must monitor my own driving habits to be a good role model. At the same time, it’s appropriate to further loosen the parental reins and retire the Mom Taxi. Since we reside in a city with limited public transportation, and live in a state where it is not possible to get from Point A to Point B easily via bus or train, this can only be achieved by granting him access to a car.

Which brings us squarely back to the vehicle, and his ability to drive it. As my business grows, and there are more calls on my time, trying to carve out the necessary spaces to make sure my son is where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there is becoming more and more difficult. And while I know I will sweat each and every time he gets behind the wheel of a car, I do appreciate that this is a necessary part the family’s evolution.

Despite the financial costs (and perhaps an additional grey hair or two), there will be significant benefits to having another driver available in the household. Once my son is fully licensed, I will no longer have to take him to school, his job, or his after-school activities, reducing my driving even as his increases. He will be able to take the dog to the vet or to be groomed, will be able to pick up or deliver someone to the airport, or will even be available to run to the store for a gallon of milk. If he wants to see a friend in another town, or in another state, he can without regard to checking my schedule first.

The first lesson is under our respective belts, and it will be uphill from here. The improvement in his skills between the beginning and ending of the lesson was such that I have no doubt he will someday be a safe and courteous driver. However, as every parent realizes, there’s more to having him behind the wheel than remembering to indicate before he brakes, and learning not to hit signposts and curbs; he needs to learn the harsh economic realities of this undertaking for himself. While the costs of owning and maintaining a car may be, at times, beyond the capacity of his pocket, his ability to drive will give him choices he might not otherwise have, options that include where to live, where to play, where to work, and what school to attend. I know–I passed my driving test the day after a snowstorm in January, 1976, and I’ve never looked back, even though I postponed buying my first car for 24 years, until I moved from Boston to Vermont.

That said, the first time he pays to fill the gas tank will be a shock, the first insurance bill he pays, an eye opener. Since I’m not going to entertain the possibility of lessening that reality by conceding to alternative modes of transportation, i.e. a motorcycle, maybe the best economic lesson I could provide for him is to ask his grandfather to teach him to change his own oil!