An Open Letter to Every Parent of a New NJ Driver
I once heard some vague statistic that 99% of the things we worry about happening never do occur. Tell that to the parent of a newly licensed teenage driver.
No statistic in the world is going to keep you from worrying. You’ve seen them from their helpless first night on Earth. You’ve watched them learn to walk, fall down stairs, fail tests, strike out in Little League and get hurt in the absolute dumbest of ways.
You’ve seen them at their worst and you can’t believe the time has passed and they’re now driving off, alone, without you, in a car.
You try not to think about the statistic that 42,915 people died in the United States in vehicle crashes in 2021. You’d rather think about that other statistic on useless worrying. But nothing helps.
I feel you. My son earned his driver’s license three and a half months ago. You are both thrilled for them getting it and sick to your stomach at once. Today was another milestone.
Today for the first time he drove with his girlfriend down the Garden State Parkway. Down the shore. No doubt blasting his Palaye Royale on the sound system. For me it was Squeeze. A summer rite of passage.
But I worried all over again. Shore traffic on a Sunday on the GSP. (At least it probably crawled at points.) What I kept picturing were the toll plazas. Those leftover menaces that have been scientifically proven to contribute to accidents by people having to suddenly jockey for position, find their correct lane (he doesn’t have E-ZPass yet) watch out for everyone else doing the same thing.
You know because you’re going through the same thing that I tried. I tried to resist the urge to send a quick text saying, "Hey, I know this is kinda dumb, because of course you want to be careful, but, just be cautious today, OK?"
I failed. I sent it. Like a schmuck. He texted back that he would. Hours later without being asked to, he texted to let me know he had gotten there fine.
I hope your son or daughter is that understanding of what you and I are both going through. I know firsthand that you can’t help it. You’ve been responsible for their very lives from the beginning. Now you’re expected to just let go.
We have to trust we did more things right with them than wrong. They’re more capable than we worry about them being. And the only way they become better drivers is to drive. Just like when they learned to walk, we had to let them fall. (It’s just those falls didn’t come with three years of surcharges.) If we did our jobs, we have to let them go. Letting them go is, after all, the entire point of raising them.