When my driver's test administrator told me that I had passed the test, I felt a weight drop from my shoulders. I had been practicing driving every day for weeks before my test. The stress of not knowing what to expect was finally over.
My first time driving alone was three days after receiving my license; my mom asked me to go buy some groceries. I started the car, connected my phone to the car's Bluetooth system, took a deep breath, and started driving.
Since my parents are strict law abiders, they didn't allow me to drive alone prior to receiving my license. So I was not expecting the feeling of being completely alone and free to be so exhilarating. I blasted my music and sang along as I drove, carefully navigating my car based on directions from Google Maps.
Here are some things I have learned in the first days of driving.
Driving alone can be fun, but it can get boring
Yes, you will feel free and independent, but sometimes you just want to drive around with a friend. Unfortunately, in most circumstances, if you're a minor and you receive your license you cannot drive your friends for one year, or at least until you turn 18. I think boredom and loneliness are some reasons why many choose to break that rule and drive friends around. It can also be really convenient, such as when you and a friend hang out (social distancing, of course) and they need a ride home. It can be much more eco friendly and overall convenient for both parties. However, remember that it is illegal and if you get in a car accident with your friend in the car, you will be liable for them. It's much safer to wait until your one year mark or until you turn 18, but the choice is really up to you and your parents.
You will probably break the law
We are taught during driver's ed, from our driver's instructors and our parents to pay attention to the road, not go on your phone, and turn on your turn signal when making a turn. But as you get more driving experience, you start to get used to things like traffic, following Google Maps directions, and speeding. This is when teens start disobeying rules out of convenience and laziness. Obviously, occasionally speeding or not stopping at a stop sign won't necessarily kill anyone. But it is best to focus on driving and try not to break the law unless absolutely necessary. Remember that you are setting an example for the younger kids that look at you with awe when you drive.
Texting while driving is probably the most common offense teens commit. Sometimes Google Maps gets something wrong and you have to adjust. Sometimes you need to text your friend back. Sometimes you need to check if a restaurant is open yet. I understand. It can seem like such a small thing. But that doesn't mean that it isn't dangerous, not to mention illegal. One glance at your phone could mean that you don't see the car in front of you halt abruptly, resulting in a fender bender.
If you need to check your phone, do so safely by parking somewhere or pulling over on the side of the road and turning off your engine. This way, you are not driving while distracted, endangering everyone on the road. Remember that just because texting while driving didn't cause an accident one time doesn't mean it won't cause an accident the next time.
The sky is the limit
The first time I drove, I bought groceries for my mom. I know that sounds boring. But just going to the supermarket alone and buying groceries made me feel all that more grown-up. I was thrilled to be able to do things alone. Now that I have my license, I can go get food for my family. I can drive myself to art class. The sky really is the limit.
You can also go on drives to interesting places in your area. Since I live in the Bay Area, there are plenty of places I can drive to that are interesting. I can't wait to continue exploring, and hopefully with friends later on. Look up tourist attractions in your area and visit them. Or take a nighttime drive (until 11 pm if you're under 18, or per your state's provisional license rules) and watch the sunset. The other day, I woke up early and went hiking alone. It's nice to be able to do things on your own and have fun without your parents there.
I would also recommend driving everywhere, maybe even with a parent. Sometimes, you don't realize how much you depended on your parents to help you do things like making a left turn while in traffic, parking in a full parking lot, or parallel parking. Make sure to practice these skills until you master them, so when the situation comes where you need to drive to an appointment alone, you feel prepared to do so. This may mean driving to the appointment site a day earlier to observe traffic patterns and the parking situation, as well as which streets you need to take to get there.
You get lazier
When I had my permit, I either had to drive with my parent in the passenger seat or I had to bike places. Now that I have my license, I can just drive there. However, this makes me pretty lazy. A lot of the time, biking somewhere was my exercise for the day. Now, I have to purposefully incorporate exercise into my schedule. So, while driving has been convenient, it no longer forces me to exercise to reach destinations.
Since exercise has a huge impact on your mental health, it's important to continue to exercise during the day despite having your license. Sometimes, you may actually want to walk or bike somewhere instead of drive there.
You may panic when things go wrong
Parking is one of the driving skills I need to improve. The first time I parked, my car was too far to the right. I panicked, but there was no reason to; there was plenty of space to allow me to reverse and park more accurately. Don't worry if you mess up; there's almost always a way to get out of a situation.
One common example is missing a turn or turning on the wrong street. Don't panic, even if you're going to be late for an appointment. Panicking will only cause you to make impulsive decisions like running red lights or make illegal turns. Doing so will only endanger everyone else on the road. Remember that NO APPOINTMENT is worth a car accident. Don't speed, make illegal turns, run red lights and stop signs, or break any other laws to get somewhere faster. People will understand if you are late, and if they get mad, tell them that being late is better than causing an accident.
Another example is if you do a bad parking job and there are cars on both sides of your car. Look backward, reverse slowly and move your steering wheel to whichever direction necessary to reverse straight, and try again. You may feel pressured if there are cars parking or leaving nearby but take it slowly, make sure to check before reversing, and remember that it's better to fix your mistakes than to be seen as a bad driver.
Getting a driver's license is one of many big milestones in your life. Embrace the freedom and drive to fun places! Treat yourself to delicious food and make sure to stay safe on the road!