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The road to responsibility

Teens learn there's more to having wheels than getting the keys

Teens learn there's more to having wheels than getting the keys

October 05, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Brittany Jones, 17, of Hagerstown, bought her first car before she had a license.

"I only paid $1,000 for it," she said, of her '95 Honda Civic, which she purchased last year and later painted a sparkly Kermit-the-Frog green.

For Brittany and her fellow teens of driving age, getting that first car signifies the steady path toward independence. She can make her own schedule.

"You don't have to ask for every single thing," Brittany said. "I don't have to worry about being late unless it's my own fault."

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But for those who, like Brittany, are asked to pay for it, that first car offers a taste of what it's really like to be an adult.

All or nothing

"They know these things aren't free," said John Williamson, certified financial planner and owner of Williamson and Associates, a branch of Ameriprise Financial Services, in Frederick, Md.

According to state Motor Vehicle Administration data, there were 56,024 newly licensed drivers younger than 18 years old as of June 30 - which left thousands of parents to figure out how those teen drivers would get around.

Williamson - a father of three young adults - said parents should consider having their teens pay a reasonable portion of the car's cost.

"It's a rude awakening as a young adult: going from not having to pay a car note to paying a car note, insurance and putting away money into a 401K," Williamson said.

Brittany's mother, Pam Frazier, said the question of how Brittany would acquire her first car wasn't difficult.

"She had the money saved up," Frazier said. "We would have (paid for the car), but we try to get her to do things on her own."

Show responsibility to get responsibility

Megan Huntsberger, 17, of Hagerstown, said her parents bought her a 2001 Ford Explorer. She said she isn't expected to pay much for gas or other car expenses.

Still, she said she admires teens - like her friend Brittany - who pay for their own car.

"When you pay for your own car, it shows responsibility," Megan said. "You appreciate it more."

But she isn't getting the car for nothing.

Megan's mother, Debbie Huntsberger, said they had an agreement - Megan would get a car if she took classes at Hagerstown Community College, kept a job and kept her grades up.

"She understands that it's a privilege," Huntsberger said. "We can take that away from her at any point."

Not too fancy

Todd Jacobson, 17, of Hagerstown, and his twin, Tim, drive a Chevy Lumina to and from school.

"It's my mom's car," said Todd, a senior at South Hagerstown High School.

Their mother, Sue Jacobson, said she allows the boys to use her car because she is able to get around in another car.

The twins already help out with the gas, and they'll have to chip in on the costs when the time comes for them to get their own cars, Jacobson said.

"It's about responsibility, instead of them having everything handed to them," Jacobson said.

To parents who are considering buying their teen's first car, Williamson offers this advice: Don't cave into pressure to buy a fancy, expensive one.

A recent study could offer parents some leverage, so that "when a kid wants a BMW, he can't tell you 'all the kids are doing it mom,'" said Bob U'Ren, senior vice president of Quality Planning Corporation, a San Fransisco-based company that works with auto insurers.

That's because Honda Civics were the most driven among teen drivers, U'Ren said, citing a study his company released in June. The study surveyed 17,630 insurance policies for which the driver was a teenager between 16 and 18 years old.

In addition to listing the 10 most driven new cars and the 10 most driven used cars among teen drivers, the study found that gas-guzzling SUVs are no longer a popular choice for teens.

Sports cars did not make the top 10 in either the new or used-car categories.

U'Ren said ownership data - whether the car was owned by the teen or the parent - was unavailable.

For every teen driver behind the wheel, there are more soon-to-be drivers, such as Myia Evans, 14, of Hagerstown, who would do anything for a car - even pay for it.

"That's because I don't like walking," said Myia, a freshman at South High who makes a 20-minute trek to her South Mulberry Street home after school.

"I'll drive anything," Myia said. "I don't care. As long as I don't have to walk."

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