Spectator: The perils of young drivers

Our daughter has just failed her driving test. This is very good news, and not only for the other 30 million car users. She failed on two ‘majors’ and six ‘minors’. I asked what the majors were. ‘I nearly hit a pedestrian and the examiner had to put on the brakes,’ she said. ‘Where was the pedestrian?’ I asked. ‘On a zebra crossing.’ Oh dear God. Every time her phone goes or a text pings in, it’s with news of another triumphant learner driver who has just been given permission to cast off the plates and go it alone. It is, without a doubt, one of the trickiest times I’ve had to negotiate as a parent.

The boyfriend of the daughter took his test seven times, eventually electing to have his mother in the back of the car. He then passed and, within days, was driving to pick up the daughter, dropping her back from college and so on. I tried a daylight-only rule at first, but it gets dark pretty early. My gut feeling is that he’s sensible -plus, with seven tests under his belt, he’s been driving a while. The lack of logic isn’t lost on me. When the daughter asked if a friend of hers, also newly passed, could drive her somewhere last week, I didn’t hesitate to say no.

The perplexed daughter asked why. I didn’t dress it up. ‘I just don’t trust her.’ Another great friend of the daughter arrived and asked me to draw a fairly tricky junction near here as she’d done it in the dark-with no cars around -but wasn’t quite sure on which side of her the cars, had there been any, should have been. Actually, I think of this friend as being sensibly cautious, so I might let her take the daughter. My beloved nephew passed his test first time-to everybody’s amazement, most of all his own. He set off for their nearest town (four miles away) on his first solo journey. Two hours later, he rang his mother having only just managed to find a) the town and b) a car park big enough for him to turn the car around to get home. On his second journey, he ran out of petrol. Perversely, the daughter can go with him. Her boyfriend offered to collect another of my children from school. No thanks. So hang on, it’s okay to be a passenger at 18, but not eight? These double standards are getting out of control.

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Although the 17-year-old son of a neighbour has passed after a handful of lessons, we’ve spent hundreds of pounds on tens of hours, highlighting another area where we’ve gone spectacularly wrong. Lessons are pointless without practice in between, but after a couple of trips together, it was clear I’m not built for it. ‘Stop putting your hands over your eyes,’ the daughter yelled. We’ve asked our neighbour, calmness personified, to take her out and, together, they’ve negotiated the hazards of Basingstoke and Southampton. When they come home, he’s always positive: she’s doing really well, she’s building confidence, she only stalled a few times at the roundabout She stalled, a few times, at one of the biggest roundabouts in southern England? My heart is thumping and I wasn’t even there. ‘I don’t want you riding with anyone who hasn’t been driving for six months.’ That seems a good line and is one enforced in many states of America, Australia and New Zealand. In Connecticut, for example, you can’t take any passengers apart from parents or instructors for the first six months and immediate family for the next six. But we have to write our own laws, and mine are riddled with loopholes and inconsistencies.

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After about 24 hours of our ‘six month’ law, we’re faced with the daughter being on the bus as one of her friends drives the exact same journey behind it. June seems a long way off. So here are the rules of today: the daughter can be a passenger, if she’s the only one (statistically, the more passengers, the more accidents), but I can veto on a case-by- case basis and don’t need to justify my decisions, which are final. Should she pass, she can’t take passengers until she’s driven for… some time. Crystal clear.

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