Coming of Age Behind the Wheel

Once upon a time, netting your “temps” was a highly anticipated rite of passage among American 15-year-olds, who started tracking their qualifying date for driving privileges months in advance – and pestering their parents until the coveted permit was in-hand. About that same time the Ford Taurus and Pac Man were introduced, and apparently the allure of taking the wheel has been eroding among teenagers ever since.

Is my willingness to shuttle him to school and sports to blame for my own son’s lackadaisical attitude toward driving? Those are the only two places the 16-year-old seems to need to travel on a regular basis, as his busy social life beyond the two is conducted on a smart phone and a video console.

Ethan appears as intelligent, well-adjusted and sociable as your normal teenager, if there is such a thing, and he’s willing to accept challenges and attempt new activities. So why isn’t he chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel?

“It’s just not that big a deal,” was his reply to my driving question. “You and mom will take me where I need to go and enough of my friends are driving now to get us places when we want to.”

But it’s time for the nudge I never thought I’d need to get our kid out from under wing and behind the wheel. It began with brief driving lessons at the local cemetery, a setting where my father taught me, as his did him. The combination of deserted lanes flanked by stone cold reminders of “where you’ll end up if you don’t drive safely!” have served as effective proving grounds for three generations of Armitage driver wannabe’s and I didn’t see any reason to interrupt that track record with Ethan.

Now that it’s time for formal driving instruction, the course of action for obtaining his Ohio driver license is as regimented as ever, and follows a process known as the Graduated Driver License, or “GDL.”
For a 16-year-old like Ethan, it starts with passing a vision exam and a written test at a driver exam station to receive a certificate, which he has 60 days to present at a deputy registrar agency with a $22 fee to receive the an Ohio Temporary Instruction Permit Identification Card (TIPIC) or “temps.”

The TIPIC is valid for one year, and authorizes a holder to practice driving skills under the GDL process that requires a licensed driver age 21 or older to occupy the passenger seat. That passenger must be a parent or legal guardian or certified driving instructor if the TIPIC holder is under age 16. To qualify to take the exam for an Ohio driver license, which can happen as soon as six months later, the student driver needs to log at least 50 hours behind the wheel, ten of which must be at night, and obtain 24 hours of classroom and eight hours of driving instruction from a commercial or high school driver education program. Licensed drivers under the age of 17 continue to face GDL restrictions on passenger number and night driving (see sidebar). It’s a process prospective drivers can bypass altogether if they wait until they’re 18 – and may take the Ohio driver license exam without any formal prep – and has many teens doing just that.

As a resource for young drivers and their families, AAA offers some valuable assistance and is involved in efforts to improve the driver education process. When we have questions about what our responsibilities are as Ethan learns to drive, we find answers 24/7 at the agency’s web site: TeenDriving.AAA.com.

When it comes time to select a driving school, we’ll reference the AAA Approved Driving Schools network there, to learn our options for enrolling our son in an approved commercial or high school learn-to-drive program locally, from the six such schools in the 38 counties that our local Ohio Auto Club serves.

Meanwhile, the biggest change I noticed when reviewing the requirements for obtaining an Ohio driver license is that parallel parking is no longer a part of the skills set. What’s up with that? Next thing you know the state will be eliminating the high school Algebra requirement!