We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofElliot Dater-Roberts

“Remember S.M.O.G., signal, mirrors, over-the-shoulder, go,” my mom said as we were leaving the driveway. 

One winter evening I was forced by mom to practice driving. Now that I was sixteen and could legally get my license, I was signed up for driver's ed and had to practice with a parent for twelve hours before starting the class. My parents were making me drive ever since I turned sixteen, even though it made me uncomfortable.

My biggest fear about driving was going on the highway. I was scared about going so fast, merging, and changing lanes. Eventually, one of my parents tricked me into driving on the highway by not telling me where we were going. 

As we came to a large intersection, I got a nervous feeling in my gut. We turned to the left and my mom said, “Turn right up there, we’re going on the highway.”

I felt annoyed and unsure. I tensed my shoulders and eased the car toward the on ramp. I wondered how we were going to get on. As I sped up to pull onto the highway, I felt relief that there were no oncoming cars that I had to yield to, but this relief was short lived. I had to speed up faster than I had ever gone before, to make it out before the cars caught up. It felt like at a sudden jerk I would go spiraling off course. 

When I finally settled into the slow lane, I was going faster than I had ever gone before.  It felt like there were cars all around me and at any moment they were going to collide with another one. After ten minutes of constantly checking my mirrors, I reached my exit. When I started to slow down to a normal speed, I also started to calm down.

As we headed home on the back roads, I started to think about how there must have been other kids like me driving on that highway.  These other kids in their own cars were also learning how to drive. I realized that I had probably already driven the same roads as many other new drivers before me. It made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself. My learning how to drive was not unique.    

Every time I drive I am indirectly connecting with a mass of people around me. Every time I slow down, the people behind me have to slow down. Every time I speed up, other drivers have the option to speed up with me.  Every time I switch lanes, I  am interacting with people through a car. Even though we don’t realize it, we are interacting with each other. 

Every day, we drive past so many people who are just like us and yet our own interaction with them is just through our cars and how we drive, and not as individual people. Everyone has their own life story and destination. We are all intertwined on the same highway and yet we never learn each other’s stories beyond driving the same road together.  

© Elliot Dater-Roberts. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.