Article and photos by Steven Bochenek and Simon Hill

This is far more terrifying than any vampire romance or zombie cable show. Central Vancouverite auto writer Simon Hill is teaching his son to drive. Central Torontonian Steven Bochenek is teaching his daughter, who also is getting Young Drivers of Canada lessons. We chronicle the two dads’ journeys into aggressively greying hair. Be afraid.

Let’s not make this easy, Simon Hill

“Why,” I wondered, as I drove like a madman from my son’s school to the ICBC driver’s licensing centre, “do they make this so difficult?” My son, who’d just turned 16, wanted to get his learner’s permit. This actually makes him a bit of a rarity amongst his peers. According to a recent University of Michigan Research Institute study, fewer and fewer of those under 30 are getting their driver’s licenses these days (see The Young and the Car-less).

In Vancouver, where I live, a recent Translink study showed that only 49.7 percent of youth age 16–24 had a driver’s license in 2012. I grew up in Calgary, and I can’t remember any friends who didn’t have a license by the time they were 17. But I do clearly remember having to hold my son’s hand whenever we crossed the road, and that was what seems like only a few months ago.

The Teen Driving Chronicles
The Teen Driving Chronicles. Click image to enlarge

But I digress. Among all the causes of this decline in youth driving interest – the increasing costs of car ownership and fuel, the increasing proportion of people living in inner cities where transit is excellent and parking a hassle, the increasing youth focus on electronic gadgets over cars – I think ICBC may play its own part here in BC. I’m not just talking about the obvious stuff, the restrictive graduated licensing rules that require you drive with a qualified supervisor for at least the first year (which makes clear sense) and now also limit with whom you can drive for two full years after you pass your road test and get your license (which makes somewhat less sense).

I’m talking about the smaller, simpler things like the fact that you can’t take your learner’s test after about 3:30 p.m. (the lineups get too long) but school doesn’t get out until 3:00 pm, and the licensing centres are only open on school days. Hence my mad dash across town, which isn’t exactly the sort of driving example I wanted to set.

After slipping in under the wire (we’d missed the official cutoff and had to sweet-talk the clerk) my son aced the test in less than one-third of the expected time, so apparently he knows what a stop sign looks like and what it means when you have a broken yellow line on your side of the road. But he always was a quick study when it comes to tests, and really that was the easy part, because we live in the heart of the city, with busy traffic all around, and our family car is standard-shift mid-90’s BMW with a heavy clutch.

The Teen Driving Chronicles
The Teen Driving Chronicles. Click image to enlarge

Driving a real car, on real streets, is a whole lot different than reading about the process in a cheerfully illustrated guide, and experience with Mario Kart really doesn’t help one bit.

The trend these days is for young drivers to sign up with a professional driving instruction school, like the Young Drivers of Canada lessons that Steven’s daughter signed up for in Toronto. But at about $100 per hour for individual lessons and $1,200 for the year-long ICBC-approved Graduated Learners Program course, this wasn’t going to fly in our family — not on top of orthodontics, guitar lessons, school field trips and so on, and so on. Especially since unlike in Ontario (or Alberta for that matter, where I took lessons in my youth to save on insurance) there’s no financial payback in BC, just a six-month reduction in your 24-month novice driver restrictions.

No, for my son, the qualified supervisor is me. And from the first moment he got behind the wheel it was clear we both had lots to learn. Welcome to the jungle, kid…

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