Steve Wacksman for Reader's DigestDear Sophie,
So you’re about to start driving! How exciting! I’m going to kill myself.
Sorry. I’m flashing back to when your big brother, Rob, started driving. When he turned 16 and got his driver’s license, he had a marked tendency to—there is no diplomatic way to put this—drive into things.
This was never his fault. I know this because whenever he drove the car into something, he would call me, and the conversation would go like this:
Rob: Dad, it wasn’t my fault.
My point, Sophie, is that just because the state of Florida thinks you can drive a car, that doesn’t mean you actually can drive a car. As far as I can tell after three decades on the roads of Florida, there isn’t anybody that the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t think can drive a car. I cannot imagine what you would have to do to fail the driving test here.
DMV officer: OK, make a left turn here.
Test taker: Whoops.
DMV officer: [Writes something on clipboard]
Test taker: Does that mean I failed the test?
DMV officer: Nah, she’s getting back up. You just clipped her.
So to summarize, Sophie: Many people who lack the judgment and/or physical skills needed to safely microwave a burrito are deemed qualified by the state of Florida to operate a motor vehicle. When you get out on the road, you will be surrounded by terrible drivers. And guess what. You will be one of them. Yes, Sophie: You will be a bad driver, and not because you’re careless or irresponsible but because you’re a teenager, and it is a physiological fact that at your stage of brain development, you are—to use the term preferred by researchers in the field of neurological science—“stupid.”
But, Dad, you’re thinking, didn’t you drive when you were a teenager?
Yes, I did. I got my New York State driver’s license in 1963, at age 16, and I spent many hours cruising on the highways and byways and occasionally the lawns in and around Armonk, New York. But that was different, Sophie, because I drove safely. I don’t mean “safely” in the sense of “carefully.” I was definitely your standard male teenage idiot. But I was a safe idiot because I was driving the safest vehicle ever built: my mom’s 1961 Plymouth Valiant station wagon. It did not have modern safety features such as seat belts, air bags, antilock brakes, or a computerized collision-avoidance system. What the Valiant had was … inertia. I would stomp violently down on the accelerator, and basically nothing would happen for several lunar cycles because the Valiant was no more capable of acceleration than a fire hydrant. This was the only car ever manufactured that traveled faster on the assembly line than under its own power.
You could not hit anything in a Valiant. Fully mature trees moved quickly enough to get out of its way. If I were in charge, today’s teenagers would be permitted to drive only if they drove Plymouth Valiant station wagons.
Unfortunately, Sophie, I am not in charge, which means you’re going to be driving on roads teeming with modern high-speed automobiles operated by incompetent idiots such as (no offense) yourself. To prove that you’re qualified to do this, the state of Florida will make you take a test based on the information found in the official Florida Driver’s Handbook.
But there’s a big difference between how the Florida Driver’s Handbook says you should drive and how actual humans drive in Florida. So I’ve prepared this Reality-Based Florida Driver’s Q&A:
Q: If I arrive at an intersection at the same time as another motorist, who goes first?
A: You do.
Q: But what if …
A: There is no “what if.” You go first.
Q: Florida law strictly prohibits texting while driving. Does this law apply to me?
A: Ha-ha! Of course not.
Q: If I stop at a red light, how will I know when it turns green?
A: You will hear honking behind you. This is your cue to start wrapping up your current text—unless, of course, it is important.
Q: When I come to a stop sign, do I need to stop?
A: You personally?
Q: How is the turn signal used in Florida?
A: It is used to indicate to other motorists that you do not realize your turn signal is blinking.
Q: My car’s engine seems to have stopped, and I hear a “burbling” noise. What could be causing this?
A: Are you a senior citizen?
A: You have driven into a swimming pool.
Q: I’ve had a few drinks. How can I tell if I should drive?
A: Take this simple test: Are you wearing your underpants on your head?
Q: Not my underpants, no.
A: Then you are good to go.
I didn’t write this letter to make you nervous about driving here. I wrote it to make you terrified about driving here. Because I love you, and I will do everything I can to make sure you’re really ready to drive. I’m going to keep coaching you until the day you finally get your license and are allowed to drive alone. Even when you finally drive away, solo at last, you’re going to feel as if I’m still right there next to you, guiding you.
In fact, I will be right there next to you, walking at a leisurely pace alongside your car.
Your 1961 Valiant.
Dave Barry is a Pulitzer Prize–winning author and columnist. This piece is from his latest book, Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster)