If any teenager ever deserved a driver's license, it's my 16-year-old son.
He's obsessive about obeying rules. He nags me when I drive over the speed limit, points out if I don't come to a complete stop at a stop sign, and refused to even consider driving a block without an adult present.
If his driving instructor told him to look over his shoulder when changing lanes, that's what he did.
But last Thursday, when he went to take his driver's test, was a tense day for us.
Since my son is my second child to get a driver's license, I knew a few tricks. Such as, make an appointment for the driver's test (call 678-413-8400, Option 4) WAY ahead of time. Appointments for teenage driving tests are booked weeks in advance.
I also knew that in Georgia, a 16-year-old is eligible for a driver's license after holding a learner's permit for one year and one day. So I made his Nov. 3 appointment in AUGUST. You read that right, August. I made it in enough time to make it to the driver's license office after a normal school day.
Despite having an appointment, we still sat and waited. Stupid me, I presumed that a 4:20 p.m. appointment meant we should arrive at that hour. My nervous teenage son, ever eager to find more things to blame upon his parents, was ready to strangle me when we arrived at 4:20 p.m.
The desk clerk reproached us for arriving late. We should have arrived 20 minutes earlier, he said. As it was, we waited for 45 minutes before our number was called.
We had all the paperwork when we got to the Georgia Department of Driver Services office. Thanks to Joshua's Law, which went into effect in 2007, teenagers have to prove they've passed a driver's education course (thank you, Taggart's), have a letter from their high school attendance office proving they've attended school regularly, have a certificate that they've passed the Alcohol and Drug Awareness Program and provide their social security number.
That law and the paperwork don't seem to have deterred teenagers from getting their licenses. Last year, 105,840 teenagers passed the road test, including 44,714 16-year-olds, according to the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
But it does seem to have boosted driver's training classes. In 2010, 74,942 teen drivers under 18 completed some form of driver's education, most taught by a school like Taggart's, an online course, or led by a parent.
That represents a steady increase since 2007, when the number was 55,460, rising to 59,864 in 2008 and jumping 69,262 in 2009.
Back in the waiting room, Daniel started getting edgy when rain started to fall.
"I've never driven in the rain," he fretted.
In my most supportive, maternal voice, I kept reassuring him, "you'll do fine, just breathe. You're a good driver."
Our number was finally called and we handed over the paperwork, I signed the form attesting to the fact that he'd practiced at least 40 hours of driving on the road under an adult supervision, which the clerk promptly notarized. He proudly wrote down his height as 6 feet, took off his glasses and smiled for the camera, one cowlick of hair flying over his right ear.
In the office that day, there were so many people with birthdays, I started looking for a cake. Not everyone wanting a driver's test had an appointment.
One woman showed up with her son, a tall Redan High student, on his 18th birthday. After the test, she confided she was driving him to buy him a new car. I admired her bravery.
When it was time for my son's test, I moved the car to the spot to begin the driving test and walked back to where the other two moms were waiting. After watching my son back up our blue Toyota, a Jamaican woman declared that Daniel had passed.
"That's the hardest part," she said, having watched most of the afternoon, waiting with her daughter for a chance to take the test.
After backing up and parallel parking around strategically placed cones in a surburban Lithonia parking lot, Daniel and the testing official drove off down Rockbridge Road for about 20 minutes. Afterwards, he said he'd driven on a road with lots of speed bumps and twists.
When he finally returned and parked, I waited anxiously. I'd had one child fail her first driving test, and she'd been devastated. We'd taken the test in Athens because we could get a quicker appointment, and she'd wept in the car all the way back to Decatur, vowing never to get a license, ever. She'd eventually come to this very same driver's facility a month later where she'd passed her test.
I'd seen my son hit a cone while doing one of the parking lot maneuvers, but I knew a driver could make a few mistakes and still pass.
My son got out of the car. I thumbs-up signed at the DOT tester with a questioning look, and she nodded. Daniel broke into a big grin.
We went back inside where we were issued a temporary license, paing $10 for the license, kicking in another $1 to go to Georgia’s Blindness Education, Screening, and Treatment Program.
I noticed my son couldn't stop grinning. He pronounced his license picture acceptable and conned me into letting him keep the $10 change for the license.
His Facebook friends immediately approved of his accomplishment, and he's looking forward to the day in six months when he can drive his friend to school.
I know my son has made a giant step towards independence, and can drive himself to appointments, clothes shopping and church suppers.
I'm proud of him, but scared at the same time. When he takes the car and the phone rings, in the minutes before I answer, I wonder if he was in a horrible accident. I guess that's motherhood for you.
Now, I'm off to remind him that there's a law forbidding teens from using their cell phone while driving.