Y people look forward to their 16th birthday for many reasons, but in New York State, it’s most likely because it’s the day you can get your learner’s permit to drive.
“As soon as I turn 16 I want my license,” said Matthew McKenzie, a freshman at Niagara Catholic Junior-Senior High School.
And once you have your license, the thought of getting your own car might be all you can think about. With your first car comes freedom, independence, power and the feeling of maturity and control. Well, almost. Then responsibility hits, and thoughts of money, time and effort come into the picture. It comes down to: Do I have to put more into this than I will get out of it? Or: Is going through all the trouble worth it?
Consider, the average price of a used car at the end of 2013 was $15,617, according to USA Today and Edmunds.com. This can be a huge investment for a 16- or 17-year-old.
Many young people get their first car from family or friends.
Take Aimee Misener, for example. The senior at Niagara Catholic said her car “was handed down to me. My mom got a new car that she wasn’t expecting so she asked me if I wanted her car.”
Matthew said he’s planning on “getting my grandma’s car.”
Of course not everyone’s parents or grandparents happen to have a car to hand down.
Jillian Lamb, another freshman at Niagara Catholic, said even though she is still a few years away from being able to drive, she has brought the topic up a few times at home. She said she is hoping to get her first car as soon as she gets her driver’s license. She already has an agreement with her mother.
“I’d have to pay for the car and she would pay for the insurance,” Jillian said.
That’s a lot of money to come up with in a few years, especially while still in high school.
Andrea Heuer, an English teacher at Niagara Catholic, said she got her first car at age 19, while she was a student at Niagara University.
“I put some money down first, then I eventually paid the car off,” Heuer said, adding “I would always have my own transportation. This way I could go home for a little bit and come back. I wouldn’t be stuck on campus. It’s not like high school where you get dropped off in the morning and get picked up in the afternoon.”
Which brings up the question: Do people even need a car in high school? It might just depend on your schedule.
“I’m at school till 6 or 7 almost every night because of sports,” Jillian said.
Getting a car at a young age can have its benefits, but it’s the parents who often play a key role in making it happen.
Andria Janese, a math teacher at Niagara Catholic, got her first car at age 17, when she was a senior in high school.
“My parents made a deal with me. If I got a scholarship to college, they would pay for my car, but I wanted a car in high school, so I had to pay for it my senior year if I wanted to drive,” Janese said. “I also did sports so I wanted to be able to drive to practice, be the cool kid.”
That thought probably does come to most teens’ minds – being that cool senior with the car. To some it’s an appealing title.
“I didn’t want to take the bus as a senior,” Janese said.
But there are other things to consider when owning a car. Paying for gas and car insurance are important parts of owning a car, but they are things often overlooked by teens planning on buying a car.
When asked who would pay for her car insurance, Aimee answered, “My parents.”
Many people said they were covered under their parents’ insurance until college and then their parents helped them out through the college years.
“When you get out on the road you realize what your parents went through with all the ‘crazy drivers’ out there,” said Maria Vellella, a freshman at Niagara Catholic.
That brings up another point for high schoolers on the road – the dangers of driving.
“It’s dangerous to drive at all when you’re any age, but especially when you’re a teenager,” said Cora Wright, a freshman at Niagara Catholic. “There is a lot of peer pressure. A lot of your friends want to get in the car at once and it can just get really crazy.”
Parents have long worried about their teens when they take to the roadways, while their children spend much of their time trying to show their parents they can be responsible on the road and taking care of a car.
“You have to be accountable for where you leave it,” Cora said. “You have to make sure you’re not drinking and driving and you have to understand that it’s not a toy, but a piece of equipment.”
When asked if getting a car in high school is a good idea, teacher Laura Moritz replied, “If it’s going to help them better themselves, then it can be a good thing, but if it’s used for playing around and going to friends’ houses, then not so much.”
Annie Mateya, a sophomore at Monroe Community College, said she got her first car when she was 17 and a senior in high school.
“I think you learn a lot from it. You gain a lot of knowledge and maturity,” Mateya said. “At the same time the attention brought to you can get in your head and you don’t make the smartest decisions.”
In the end, getting a car in high school requires some serious consideration before taking the plunge.
Sonya Dube is a freshman at Niagara Catholic Junior-Senior High School.