By Rochelle Riley
Knight Ridder Newspapers
In the state of Michigan, you can enter driver's education classes at 14 years, 8 months.
My daughter is 14 years, 6 months.
That sound you hear in the background is her reminding me that she's 14 years, 6 months and one week.
Don't think she's not counting.
I thought it would kill me the first time I took her to a birthday party and had to sit back and watch her play, needing neither my help nor my suggestions.
It was my first time watching her life from the sidelines, and the experiences are coming too fast and furious for me.
And now the state of Michigan says she's almost ready to get behind the wheel of a 2-ton machine with thousands of people driving around her.
It's too soon.
It's not like state officials haven't thought it through. Seven years ago, Michigan instituted a graduated licensing program designed to ensure that teen drivers are ready before they get out on their own.
The program requires two sets of classes and at least 50 hours of driving time - six of them at night - before a teen can get a license that allows him or her to drive alone.
Between the first classes and getting that big-deal license, my kid will be able to drive during four seasons and on all kinds of roads with me before she's going anywhere without me.
That's some comfort.
But she can enter that first class at 14 years and 8 months.
They can't enter the second segment of training until 90 days after completing the first one.
That sighing you hear is my daughter, who thought she'd get this all done in a weekend.
Teens who complete both segments of training can, at age 16, get a grand, new Level 2 license that allows them to drive any time except between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. unless they're going to work, and they need to have proof of their employment.
The good news about this graduated program is that crash rates involving 16-year-olds have dropped 25 percent since the program's inception, according to a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study. Crashes between midnight and 5 a.m. dropped 53 percent.
The greatest thing about the graduated program: parent options. For example, when a teen gets a Level 2 license, his or her parent is given a form allowing them to request that their teen not automatically advance to a Level 3 license at age 17 - which would give a teen the right to drive with no restrictions.
What I really want is a form that prohibits my daughter from driving anywhere, anytime until she's 17.
That screaming you hear is my daughter ...
© 2004, Detroit Free Press.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.