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Amanda Lamb: Love letter to my almost-teen driver

Posted October 5, 2014

No parent in Wake County could possibly have watched the coverage of the past two weeks where teenagers were involved in fatal crashes and not shed at least one tear.

Reading the headlines each morning felt like a gut punch thinking about young lives with so much potential unfulfilled. Next, my mind leaped to the parents who are experiencing an unimaginable tragedy that should never happen.

Children should never die before their parents.

For me, the stories are poignant because my older daughter will be getting her permit in January. I’ve heard from other parents of older children who have told me: At first you will hold your breath every time she gets behind the wheel of the car. You will stay up late on a weekend in order to hear her key turn in the door. You will demand that she lets you know when she gets somewhere safely and when she is leaving.

Now, after witnessing such loss, I wonder if I will do these things forever. Will I ever stop worrying? Does any parent ever stop worrying about his or her child driving?

So, I’ve been thinking about what I want to tell my daughter about driving. I’ve been composing this letter in my head. It will be placed in a photo album full of articles about traffic accidents involving young people. It’s something a parent who lost a child told me about years ago – collecting these articles and showing them to your new driver, not to scare them, but to show them the immense responsibility they are about to take on – their lives and the lives of others.

To my daughter,

First, I want to let you know that I love you and I trust you. I know you are going to be a good driver, a responsible driver. But I also want you to understand that the decisions you make behind the wheel can have a profound impact on your life and the lives of others.

I want you to always be cautious. Don’t let your fear of being late ever force you to make a bad choice behind the wheel that could put you or anyone else in danger. Saving a few seconds is never worth pulling out in traffic when you’re not sure if you can make it safely.

Don’t let other people or other things (like your cellphone) distract you when you are on the road. As a new driver, it will be tempting to think you have it all under control, that you can handle the radio blasting, your friends talking and your text messages vibrating in the cup holder, but you can’t handle these distractions. It takes years of experience to master driving, and even when you do master it one second of inattention can lead to tragedy.

I tell you this not to scare you, but because I love you and I never want anything bad to happen to you or your friends. And lastly, if you are ever in a situation where you can’t drive or one of your friends can’t drive, CALL ME. This is my promise to you — I will pick you up anywhere, anytime, no questions asked, no judgment.

I know I can’t protect you from everything, but I hope my words will guide you as you take on one of the greatest joys in life — freedom. 

Love Always, Mom

Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.

13 Comments

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  • snowl Oct 6, 2014

    My niece died after being thrown from the drivers seat, not wearing a seatbelt, at 16 years old. She over-corrected on a dirt country road on Mother's Day, 5 years ago.....yes, it never should have happened...and especially not on that day...:(

  • LoriBelle Oct 6, 2014

    My son was a freshman at Leesville Road High the spring of the I-540 accident that killed 3 or 4 students. He had a class with the driver Brian. Prior to that, a cousin on his dad’s side died in a black-ice accident—speed was not a factor just a tragic accident. Every time our high school students are lost to traffic accidents, our children say “that will never be me; I’ll never drive that way.” My son said the same thing. This being said, none of it mattered when he began driving. He totaled a car. He did not get another car and in fact, didn’t drive for 6 months except with me. He got speeding tickets. Sometimes I wonder how he stayed alive. He is and has made it to 28. No matter what we say, how much we punish and what they experience, our children are going to make mistakes. At this age they are “invincible” and nothing can harm them. As parents all we can do is set the limits when it comes to driving, explain why we feel the way we feel and pray hard that they come

  • vmcdevitt Oct 6, 2014

    Very well said, Amanda! As a parent of 19 and 21 year old kids I have often told people that the biggest challenge I've faced yet as a parent was finding the courage to let my kids drive. It requires nerves of steel ... and you just pray every day that they'll come home safely. Even though they have several years of driving experience under their belt now, I still worry every time they have to drive very far or on unfamiliar roads. Like you we impressed upon them the importance of paying attention and understanding the responsibility they're taking when someone else is in the car. We told them to assume that everybody else is a fool or drunk, and never assume the other car(s) are going to do the right thing; drive defensively and always be ready to take evasive action. Lastly, choose carefully when getting in a car with someone else.

  • Brooklyn Oct 6, 2014

    My children did not get their license at 16. I didn't feel that they were confident behind the wheel. Also, driver's ed does not teach them nearly enough about defensive driving, driving in bad weather, etc. It is up to us to make sure our children know everything they have to know before they get a license. I also knew that there may be times when they would be drinking. I was their age once and know kids don't wait till the legal age. I told them if that ever happened, to call me to pick them up - no matter what time it was. I also threatened them that is they ever got a dwi, they would lose their cars for a very long time. BTW, my daughter is 26 and I still make her call when she takes a long trip. I don't think you ever stop that.

  • William Powell Oct 6, 2014
    user avatar

    Please talk with legislators about funding driver education. Most of the time is not those who have taken the course, but rather those who have not. There is no excuse why someone else's mistake has to be your nightmare!!!

  • Jay Abbott Oct 6, 2014
    user avatar

    I love this letter too. The only thing I would add would be to make the cell phone warning a point of emphasis instead of a parenthetical note. IMHO the cell phone is the most hazardous de(vice) drivers face today. More dangerous than drunk drivers? I don't know, but maybe. There are FAR too many people driving down the road looking at their phone. I see multiple occurrences of it every single day. It is a real problem and today's youth seems to communicate 95% via text message.

  • TimeWillTell Oct 6, 2014

    vstarbikegirl - my heartfelt condolences on your loss. May peace be with you.

    I have posted on these forums so many times before - please get your young driver into one of the excellent car control courses for teens. The teen school run out of BMW's performance driving school is excellent (search "BMW teen school" or "BMW performance driving school"). My son took that course, and six months later the skills he learned enabled him to avoid a collision with a red-light-running [person]. Streetsurvival.org offers good classes at local venues. There are others. The point is, these teen schools teach kids life-saving techniques for controlling the car in emergency situations as well as the dangers of distracted driving.

    Back to the BMW school - there is also an adult car control course that may be run concurrently with the teen course. I took the adult course while my son was taking the teen school. Even with my years of experience including track time, I learned a lot. Check it out.

  • Sarah Harris Oct 6, 2014
    user avatar

    The letter is a very thoughtful way to express your feelings about her driving. I hope that she really takes it into consideration. I have a while until my 4 and 2 year old start to drive, but you are right, I really feel for the children, parents, and all involved when someone is hurt/killed in a car accident. It breaks my heart. I'm 35 now and MY mom will still remind me before long distance trips to be careful on the road and call her when I get to my destination. I don't think the worry ever ends.

  • SAY 'WHAT" ONE MORE TIME! Oct 6, 2014

    View quoted thread



    Very sorry for your loss. I hope that the pain subsides as the years come. Best wishes

  • Brenda Love Oct 6, 2014
    user avatar

    Vstarbikegirl - I am so sorry to hear of your loss.

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