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A Privilege, Not a Right This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     As a teenager, the sixteenth birthday is one of the most important. Why? Because this is usually the year of the driver's license (after the required training, of course). I was one of those who took Driver's Ed as early as I could, and got in as many hours as my parents could handle. I so desperately wanted to get my license. My birthday arrived and I remember sitting in school the entire day with only one thing on my mind: going to the Secretary of State's office immediately after school. I didn't care about presents or cards, only getting my license. It seemed like the most important thing in the world. I even did my hair special for my picture - the picture people usually don't care about. When I walked out of that building I felt like I was floating on air. I was 16 and licensed to drive without an adult. Of course, everyone thinks it is necessary to give new drivers advice, and I heard a lot that began "Don't do this ..." "Make sure you always ..." or "Don't forget to ..."

There was one thing, however, I kept hearing that didn't make sense at the time. Now I wish I had taken a moment to understand: "Driving isn't a right, it is a privilege, so don't take it for granted." Now when I look at my driving record, I wonder why I didn't listen to some of that advice more experienced drivers offered.

My first mistake was driving one morning when I was really tired. I'd neglected to obey one of the rules of driving, which is never to drive when sleepy. I had gotten up early to go to a meeting before school and was having an off-morning and running late. As I tried to check if I had everything, my mom said her usual good-bye spiel, calling after me, "Bye, I love you. Have a good day. I'll pray for you. Drive carefully!"

"Bye. Love you, too. I will," I responded hurriedly, replying from memory. This was the routine, but on this particularly rushed day, I paid even less attention to my answer than usual and certainly did not take the time to think about what I was saying. I simply assumed that I would arrive safely at my destination; I didn't have a clue while backing out of the driveway that this would be my last trip in my little blue Geo Tracker.

My tiredness was overwhelming, pulling at my eyelids and forcing my mouth into repeated yawns. Trying to fight it, I turned off the heat to lower my comfort level and turned up the radio. I noticed it was later than I thought and applied a little more pressure to the pedal, increasing my speed just a tad. Unfortunately weariness was taking over my body again. I felt less alert and less aware of my surroundings. This resulted in, well, a crash.

My Tracker went through a red light and did not stop until it hit the side of a car making a turn in front of me. Scared and angry with myself, all I could do was cry, after making sure no one else was seriously hurt. Panic disappeared when I found out the man I'd hit wasn't hurt. In its place was regret and "What ifs" buzzing through my pounding head. My initial responses were to the immediate consequences: How will I get anywhere? Will this pain in my neck and back go away? How will I pay for the damage? As time passed, these questions either became bigger problems or faded, but then there were other problems to deal with.

Now I have higher insurance rates, and I have to ask myself why I was hurrying so much. It wouldn't have been that bad to be a little late. I also make sure to get enough sleep. Nothing is more important than having enough sleep to drive safely and keep myself and others safe (and possibly even alive). These are all reminders of just how big a privilege driving really is.

That day a year ago I was completely taking for granted that I knew what I was doing and that nothing could go wrong. That may have been the first major car trouble I had, but it was definitely not the last. Since then I've had other problems, my least favorite being the speeding ticket. That time instead of being tired, my major problem was that I was upset. Another major rule of driving is: Never drive when emotional.

Each time something goes wrong I learn from that mistake and reflect on what I was doing and usually it all boils down to the same thing: Taking for granted the wonderful privilege

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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