Teenagers wait to get their license due to driver anxiety

PARMA, OHIO (WJW) — In Ohio, 15 and a half is the magic number at which you can begin to become independent by learning to drive. Still, some teens who spoke with FOX 8 said they waited nearly two more years.

“I was just scared to drive because I had a few accidents in a short time and I was just nervous,” said 17-year-old Cameron Phillips.

Phillips, a passenger in those crashes, now feels comfortable behind the wheel. His classmate at the professional driving school in Parma said similar concerns caused him to be late.

“There is this unnecessary fear that I will spoil. I shouldn’t say useless because it’s kind of necessary so you know what you’re doing,” said 17-year-old Alex Wittig. “Like, I don’t; I don’t want to mess up. I don’t want to mess something up because I might hurt somebody else, hurt myself.

Child and adult psychiatrist Dr. Veena Ahuja spoke about this seemingly heightened awareness of injury and harm. She said the pandemic has done more than interrupt children’s school schedules.

“It really brought the idea that people could die, kind of to the fore, and also because people died without there being a specific type of category. So it could be old; it could be young,” Dr. Ahuja said.

Add to that the pressure of learning something completely new and getting it right in real time while controlling a car. Dr Ahuja said it can be anxiety-provoking because teenagers become more aware that others might be watching them as teenagers.

She also thinks it may be harder for some teens to see the benefit of getting their license.

“They kind of saw what life can be like without having to drive. So most kids can stay home and do just about anything they need to without ever having to get in the car. I think the motivation to learn to drive is not there,” Dr Ahuja said.

Mary Kaye Speckhart, professional driving school education manager, said the past two years have certainly had an impact on driver education. She said the most recognizable change is how children respond to questions or instructions in the car.

“Our instructors have noticed that many children are calm. Or if they’re talking, they’re not very loud,” Speckhart said. “So the instructors need to get them talking so 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 he following at a good distance?” She said practice would solve that.

Speckhart said she told parents to take their teenagers to a cemetery to practice driving.

“Because it’s more relaxing. There are winding roads, it is not simple and direct. It gives them a lot of that stopping and going, that slowness, that control. It makes a big difference,” Speckhart said.

Dr. Ahuja said that if your child is not motivated to start driving, you can start to familiarize them gradually.

“Even if it’s very 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 turn the car on. It’s not no big deal,” Dr. Ahuja said. “And then learn where all the controls are, turn the car on, and be in a space where you’re not going to touch anything, and practice pressing the pedals in different ways.”

And if they still have apprehensions, their peers can probably help them. When questioned, Wittig and Phillips said their initial concerns about driving were no longer an issue.

“I would say there is really nothing to worry about. You better 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 it,” Wittig said.

“It’s not as bad as you think. It’s not really scary at all. It’s not scary at all once you get used to it,” Phillips said.

Milton S. Rodgers