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More teens are choosing to wait to get driver's licenses

Patricia gives Kat a smile after the drive. Kat Velkoff, 20, Chantilly, just got her driver's license last summer. She spent years driving around with her mother, Patricia, on a learner's permit, but now has her own car and is enrolled at UMBC.
Patricia gives Kat a smile after the drive. Kat Velkoff, 20, Chantilly, just got her driver's license last summer. She spent years driving around with her mother, Patricia, on a learner's permit, but now has her own car and is enrolled at UMBC. (Dayna Smith/For the Post)

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Conlon said this as his mother, Eva Sullivan Conlon, was driving him to the store to buy supplies for a school project; she ends up taking him places a few times a week. But he also finds his own way, boarding two buses and a train to see his girlfriend in Rockville, for example. In his circle, he adds, "most of my friends don't have driver's licenses, and the few who do end up giving rides to the rest of us."

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Natalie Perez-Duel, a 16-year-old junior at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, has yet to take driving classes and does not know when she will. "It's one more thing to study for, and it's just a hassle," said Perez-Duel, who is already squeezing in AP and International Baccalaureate classes, dance, poms and a school play.

She does not mind rides from her parents. "They have always driven me, and they still do, so it's not that weird," she said.

For parents, the license lag brings mixed reaction. Some are relieved; some mystified.

Barry Johnson, 52, who grew up in Silver Spring, remembers the glory of turning 16 and heading to the Department of Motor Vehicles "on the day you were eligible."

"Not only did all of my friends have licenses," he said, "but most of us worked and had cars by the time we graduated high school." He and his friends worked on their cars in the evening, and on weekends they went out driving -- a mark of "freedom, independence, adulthood," he said.

Now a father of two, Johnson notes that his college-age children still don't have licenses. "Neither one has risen to the occasion," he said. "Both have decided that Washington, D.C., is a great place to use their 'BMW' -- bus, Metro, walk."

Susan Apter, 48, of Rockville said her eldest daughter delayed so long that Apter finally insisted that she get licensed when she was a senior. "I took the initiative to schedule the test, helicopter parent that I am," she joked. By contrast, Apter's 15-year-old son knows the precise day in May when he can get his permit.

Plenty of parents don't want their children driving at 16, given the congestion and peril of the Washington area's roads and the fact that car crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths.

Cindy Wei, 55, of Herndon was thankful that her daughter was in no hurry to get her license. "I wanted her safe as long as possible," Wei said. "If it means I have to give up watching TV for 15 minutes so she can get a ride across town, I'm happy to do it."

A rite of passage

But waiting too long also has its drawbacks. Teens might get the best chance at supervised practice, some parents and experts say, before they head off to college, the military or a job.

"Learning to drive is a fundamental part of adolescence," said psychologist Joseph Allen of the University of Virginia. "It gives teens a major responsibility they have to handle, and it also gives them the chance to move about on their own, to function independently of their families."


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