PARMA, OHIO (WJW) — In Ohio, 15-and-a-half is the magic number when you can start inching toward independence by learning how to drive. Yet, some teens who spoke with FOX 8 said they’ve waited nearly two additional years.
“I was just scared of driving because I’ve been in a couple of accidents in a short period of time, and I was just nervous,” 17-year-old Cameron Phillips said.
Phillips, a passenger in those crashes, is now getting comfortable behind the wheel. His classmate at Professional Driving school in Parma said similar concerns caused his delay.
“There’s that unnecessary fear that I’m going to mess up. I shouldn’t say unnecessary because it is kind of necessary so that you are aware of what you’re doing,” 17-year-old Alex Wittig said. “Like, I don’t; I don’t want to mess up. I don’t want to mess something up because I could hurt someone else, hurt myself.”
Child and Adult Psychiatrist Dr. Veena Ahuja spoke about that seemingly heightened awareness of injury and harm. She said the pandemic did more than interrupt kids’ school schedules.
“It really brought the idea that people could die, kind of front and center, and also because people were dying without there being a specific kind of category. So, it could be old; it could be young,” Dr. Ahuja said.
Add to that the pressure to learn something completely new and get it right in real-time while controlling a car. Dr. Ahuja said that can be anxiety-inducing because teens become more aware that others could be watching them in adolescence.
She also believes it may be more difficult for some teenagers to see the benefit of getting their license.
“They’ve kind of seen what life can look like without needing to drive. So most kids can stay home, and do pretty much everything they need to do without ever needing to get in the car. I think that motivation to learn to drive is not there,” Dr. Ahuja said.
Professional Driving School Training Manager Mary Kaye Speckhart said the past two years have certainly impacted drivers’ training. She said the most recognizable change is how kids respond to questions or instructions in the car.
“Our instructors have noticed that a lot of the kids are quiet. Or if they do talk, they are not very loud,” Speckhart said. “So, the instructors have to get them to speak up so that they know what they’re saying and what’s going on.”
Speckhart said instructors need to know their students can confidently answer questions like, “What color is the car behind you?” and “Is it following at a good distance?” She said practice will fix that.
Speckhart said she tells parents to take their teens to a cemetery to practice driving.
“Because it is more relaxing. It’s got winding roads, it’s not straightforward and straight back. It gives them a lot of that stop-and-go, that slow, that control. It makes a big difference,” Speckhart said.
Dr. Ahuja said if your child is not motivated to start driving, you can start gradually to ease them into it.
“Even if it’s really simple things like having kids in the front seat, in the driver’s seat, and getting used to sitting there and they don’t even, you know, turn on the car. That’s okay,” Dr. Ahuja said. “And then learning where all the controls are, turning on the car and being in a space where you’re not going to hit anything and practicing kind of hitting the pedals in different ways.”
And if they’re still apprehensive, their peers can likely assist. When asked, both Wittig and Phillips said their initial concerns about driving are no longer an issue.
“I’d say there’s nothing really to fear. It’s better to know how to drive. Even if you don’t, even if you take the bus. At least you’ll still have that knowledge if you need to,” Wittig said.
“It’s not as bad as you think. It’s not really scary at all. It’s not really scary at all once you get used to it,” Phillips said.