Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Power of a Driver's License

While visiting with a patient this afternoon I noticed that her paid sitter was reading the South Carolina Driver's License Manual. Since she was clearly older than high school age (I wasn't entirely sure, she turned out to be 33) my curiosity was piqued and I asked her if she was studying for her Driver's License and it turned out that she was. We visited a while, discussed the driving test and her nervousness about it, prayed, and then I went on my way. This lady, in her thirties with three children, is paying several hundred dollars for her license, a piece of plastic that will enable her stop having to take a cab (for which the fare runs $7 -- not a small amount when making low wages with children) to work or to rely on friends or others who can at times be unreliable. It will allow her to have independence and will hopefully open up new opportunities for her (I lived for a time without a car for several months years ago in Columbia, South Carolina, and realize that it's not easy to do that in most cities).

My conversation with her got me thinking about my own experience getting a driver's license -- one that was fairly typical of a middle-class teenager in the 1980s. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for classes, I enrolled in Driver's Education at
Myrtle Beach High School (the mascot of which then carried a dagger and did not look like an effeminate maitre d from an all you can eat seafood buffet, but I digress) during my freshman year -- it was offered for at least of couple of reasons: (1) At least ostensibly it promoted safe driving. (2) It provided a real and not too taxing course for several of the coaches to teach (parents liked it because [3] You got a break on insuring your teenager if they'd passed the course!) and learner's permit, quickly followed by what was then called a day license which magically morphed into a driver's license when I turned 16. I had a car at 15 (a yellow 1977 Honda Civic Hatchback -- not a bad car and roughly appropriate for a teenager's first car, by the way) and took the mobility that it and a driver's license provided for granted, and that's the point.

Driving is an essential part of my work -- if I couldn't drive I'd have to get another job -- and that's true for many people. It also allows me freedom and independence that I (and most Americans) have gotten used to. Within reason, I go where I want to go when I want to go there.

I'm not saying that a driver's license is a universal entitlement (it should be granted to all who can demonstrate the skills and judgment needed to operate a vehicle safely) nor am I suggesting that all government schools should offer state-funded driver's education (that's a call for local school board). What I am saying is that speaking to that sitter made me appreciate a seemingly small thing that I'd previously taken for granted; such an increase in gratitude is always helpful!

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