Driving: A New Freedom

Olivia Jones, Staff Writer

Many people find themselves one day behind the wheel of massive hunks of moving metal that can take them anywhere from school to work to McDonald’s at midnight. Driving is necessary for a large portion of society, and teenagers are no exception. There are many reasons why teens get licenses; they may need to drive their younger siblings to soccer practice, run to the grocery store, or many other scenarios, so getting a license as soon as possible is a reality for many. Being able to drive offers a new freedom and sense of independence, but there are also dangers that one should consider when learning to drive and getting a license.

In Washington state, people can get a learner’s permit at age 15 if enrolled in a driving course, and 15 and a half if not taking a driving course. Many people are eager to get started as soon as possible, such as sophomore Isabella Mitchell, who started learning “as soon as I turned 15.” After getting a permit, it is time to start the learning process. Common ways of learning include practicing in a parking lot, practicing in a quiet neighborhood, or practicing on mostly empty rural roads. Sophomore Megan Parry began learning “around the cul-de-sac in my neighborhood” and then later “progressed to driving around the rest of my neighborhood.”

Learning to drive can be tricky because of the new amount of processes introduced to the brain. Not only does one have to learn about operating the pedals and steering, they also have to learn about the rules of the road and how to judge distance. There are many aspects of the road that can take a while to get used to. Parry initially struggled with “merging smoothly and changing lanes,” but learned that she “needed to keep up with the speed limit when changing lanes.” Sophomore Jadyn Lewis “struggled a lot with coming to a smooth stop,” but since then has “definitely improved.” Practicing weak areas as much as possible will bring progress.

Driving schools help teach both the operation of a vehicle as well as laws regarding the road. Some driving schools nearby include Defensive Driving and 911 Driving School. The schools teach essential skills that can help one pass the road test, but ultimately, most learning comes from practice outside of classes. Sophomore Siena Kinsley believes that driver’s ed “gave you the tools” needed to learn, but it is “on you to actually execute them and put effort in.” Driving schools or private instructors are good choices for younger drivers.

After learning how to drive, it is time to prepare for the road test and the written test. Passing these tests is the key to getting a license at age 16 or older. This causes anxiety for many drivers—older and younger. The tests assess one’s ability to operate a car smoothly and skillfully as well as one’s knowledge of the rules of the road. Mitchell prepared for the written test by taking “a lot of practice tests to get an understanding of the questions.” One of the most nerve wracking parts of the road test is the dreaded parallel parking. Kinsley has practiced parallel parking by attempting it using another car “until [she got] it right.” 

Once one has passed the tests and received their license, they are now able to drive without someone else in the car. Although there are some restrictions from younger drivers, such as having a curfew between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., the freedom a license grants opens a new chapter for many. Lewis appreciates that having a license means “being able to drive without my parents watching my every move and I can sing along to my music.” Having a license also means being able to drive to school rather than riding the bus or being taken by someone else, which often means waking up later and getting home sooner.


Even though learning to drive as a teen brings many new opportunities, it also brings new dangers. Driving can be dangerous, and this danger can be increased with risk factors such as intoxication, drowsiness, or distractions. According to this article from Edgar Snyder,Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for teens ages 15 to 20,” and the risk of fatal accidents increases with more passengers in the car. Teen drivers are more likely to be inexperienced and distracted. Some common distractions include phones, food, makeup, daydreaming, and conversing with passengers. Texting while driving is a major contributor to accidents; Brandon Myers says a quarter of accidents involve texting and that “texting or using your phone can increase your risk of crashing by three times.”

Another risk teens often face when driving is drowsy driving. Driving requires a sharp, attentive mind, and a lack of sleep can hinder one’s reaction times and decision making. An article from the National Safety Council claims that “losing two hours of sleep has the same effect on driving as having three beers.” Many teens do not get adequate sleep, so a lack of sleep contributes to many accidents involving young drivers. 

Although there are many ways to reduce risks while driving such as getting enough sleep, avoiding alcohol before driving, putting away phones and other distractions, and simply getting more experience, many drivers suffer from anxiety. Driving anxiety affects people differently; it can range from sweaty palms to panic attacks and can be dangerous to experience while on the road. Driving anxiety can be caused by traffic, traumatic experiences, weather, road rage, or fear of getting lost or stuck. The Anxiety & Depression Association of America says that conquering the fear of driving IS possible but it usually requires help” and suggests Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as treatment.

Driving offers new independence and freedom for teenagers. While it can be a struggle to learn how to drive and get a license, it is worth it for many to go through the process. Driving is on the riskier side of daily activities, but developing habits that improve safety on the road can reduce the risk of accidents and make one feel more comfortable while driving.