By Anoop Iyer and Robert Liu
Hours spent on end over the course of six months, studying for a written test and practicing for a practical test, only to end up crashing your car and risking your life — for senior Samer Awad, this was the unfortunate reality that reified itself into high insurance costs, still haunting him to this day.
Awad and his fellow student drivers choose to drive during high school, a decision that’s preceded with effort and devotion, according to senior Sanjay Kumar’s experiences, but can bring various benefits, such as increased convenience, independence and a smoother transition into adulthood.
You think about your parents and how hard they're working, and then out of the blue, some accident happens. - Senior Samer Awad
“I was scared that if I got into more accidents, especially since the prices for teenagers are already very high, that it could double and things like that,” Awad said. “You think about your parents and how hard they're working, and then out of the blue, some accident happens. Then they're just going to have to pay a ton more money for the insurance.”
Awad initially learned to drive because he believed that it would relinquish some of his parents’ pressure since they would constantly take time out of their day to drive him to a myriad of activities.
Kumar’s father, Krish Kumar, looks forward to the additional convenience he can now enjoy after recently overseeing his son Sanjay’s journey of learning to drive — he no longer has to allocate time during the inconvenient hours of his day, such as in the middle of work, to drive his child.
Despite the convenience, senior Sanjay Gollapudi doesn’t believe that driving is an end-all-be-all solution for transportation problems. In his case, Gollapudi believes that the potential drawbacks of driving as a high school student, such as high costs or individual safety, prevail over the appeal of its convenience — especially because his parents believe that their home’s close proximity to the school eliminates any need to drive.
Senior Jason Fu agrees with Gollapudi as he considers the limited application of driving in his near future.
“Probably in college, it will affect me because I’ll be on a tighter budget,” Fu said. “It depends on where you go to college — if there’s more driving to do, it’ll have a larger effect, but if I go to like some East Coast [cities] like New York where most of the time you just walk around, it won't have that much of an effect on me.”
While Krish agrees that driving as a high schooler carries various risks, he believes that learning to drive early-on is not only a cornerstone of the transition into adulthood but also a practical necessity in suburban areas.
“I did fully encourage Sanjay to start as soon as he was eligible because it’s the rite of passage for kids turning 16,” Krish said. “It’s preparing people for when they grow up to be able to drive, whether it’s to work, or to meet friends. Living in the city, like San Francisco or downtown San Jose, maybe you walk or take [an] Uber, but living in the suburbs, it’s sort of a requirement at some point that you have to learn to drive.”
Krish constantly weighed the benefits and drawbacks of allowing his son to drive while he was still learning. In the end, he believes that the decision was worth it, notwithstanding the potential safety risks and financial sacrifices from insurance of allowing his son behind the wheel.
Insurance coverage for newer cars tends to be much higher than for older cars, and you [can also] avoid [purchasing] collision coverage for an older car, which means that if you get into an accident, you have to pay for [it] yourself, but because it’s such an old car, we probably just won’t fix it. - Parent Krish Kumar
“There is a cost; that’s the downside of this, but there’s a bit of restricting or limiting the cost by limiting the coverage of the insurance,” Krish said. “One of the ways of mitigating the cost is that the car he’s driving is very old. Insurance coverage for newer cars tends to be much higher than for older cars, and you [can also] avoid [purchasing] collision coverage for an older car, which means that if you get into an accident, you have to pay for [it] yourself, but because it’s such an old car, we probably just won’t fix it.”
In addition to individual safety and responsibility, there’s also the cost of gas to consider. Over the last six months, gas prices in the Bay Area have been consistently increasing, reaching $4 per gallon in April — 38% more than the national average.
“Gas will increase [the cost] even more, but he’s not driving a lot of miles, so that keeps the gas cost pretty low,” Krish said. “ It would be concerning if he is driving a lot of miles, but his driving is mostly limited to Cupertino, so a few miles in a given time. So overall, the driving distance is not much.”
Fu, however, believes that gas prices aren’t as significant of an issue as people perceive it to be — the potential costs of insurance and the vehicle itself far outweigh that of gas. He calculates that “an increase in 10 cents of gas per gallon leads to only about $1 extra every week” — 25 times less than the cost of school lunch in a week — so he believes that gas prices ultimately don’t affect student drivers.
Despite gas prices, safeties and responsibilities, Krish places faith in the strict rules set by the DMV towards teen drivers, recounting the six month long experience his son underwent to receive his license.
[It’s helpful] to get familiar with [driving] when he will have to drive long distances to work, so it’s good for [there] to be a practice round with these restrictions. - Parent Krish Kumar
“[Sanjay] has a curfew, he can’t take anybody else and he’s driving short distances — so there are rules in place that keep it fairly safe,” Krish said. “[It’s helpful] to get familiar with [driving] when he will have to drive long distances to work, so it’s good for [there] to be a practice round with these restrictions.”