Panic!

That’s what we did when we realized our child (who couldn’t find her retainer in the morning even though it was in her mouth) would be the intellectual force commanding a 3,000-pound driving machine! Somehow, the little girl we used to strap into the car seat turned into the young woman in the driver’s seat.

How did that happen?

Frankly, it wasn't as bad as we expected. She started with her learner’s permit, which in the state of Conneticut, allowed her to drive, but only with a licensed driver who had been driving for at least four years. After 120 days she was able to apply for a license exam. During the first three months of driving, she was able to drive only with a parent or adult. Over the next three months she could transport only family members, and not between midnight and 5 a.m.

Good thing, because she had what I’ll call an “unfortunate encounter.”

She was driving out of Starbucks early one morning before an exam. (Starbucks provides the nutritional elements necessary for a teenage brain to function at test time). Oops! She forgot to check for oncoming cars. Because of that, she had a not-so-friendly encounter with a pickup truck and the lawnmower attached to it! Well, this being America, the other driver was an unlicensed, uninsured, illegal alien. In this case, that was good news. Why? Because he wanted nothing to do with a police report.

Our daughter said, “But what about the taillight that I knocked off the back of your truck?” Oh that? Not to worry, he said, he didn’t really need it. He just wanted to continue on his way to whatever job he was working. Our daughter had done $800 worth of damage to her car. The lovely, relatively new, silver Subaru station wagon now had an artistic swath of red paint marking it from front to back.

Darn it! It’s hard to get mad at kids when you can relate! I was just a bit older than she is now and it was early in the morning. Of course, anything before noon seemed early before I had kids! Anyway, I needed a cup of coffee and pulled into a 7-Eleven. Bleary-eyed, I walked in, poured a cup with some cream, paid, and headed back out to the car. While clutching the all-important liquid adrenaline with one hand, I cranked the radio, put the car in reverse, and began backing up, ignoring the seemingly possessed men at the curb making weird facial and hand gestures.

SLAM!

You know how things move in slow motion? I saw the coffee cup lift up into the air like an aerodynamically-challenged spaceship, which quite quickly gave up the fight against the forces of gravity and plummeted right down into my lap. I’d been in such a rush to get to the coffee that I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that I’d wedged my car into a “kind of” parking spot. You know the type I’m talking about—it’s not quite a spot, but you rationalize to yourself that it really should be.

The problem was that someone with a much higher level of public parking safety experience than I had aptly realized that the light pole someone had had the bright idea to erect in the parking area might block the ability of a clear-thinking individual to back out without incident. Unfortunately, at that point in my life I was not a clear-thinking individual. And those possessed men? They just sat there holding their stomachs and laughing. Women drivers! I know that’s what they were thinking!

If you’re worried about your teen driving a car, you are not a hypochondriac. The teen fatality numbers are astounding, and it’s a good idea to share them with kids, as we did. They paint a sobering picture.

Fortunately, as highway safety has increased, all traffic deaths, including teens, have decreased.

At a certain age your child will become eligible to get a driver’s license. When that happens, I highly recommend a driving contract. There are numerous places to find guidelines, but I found one that is so thorough and well-written that I think it’s tough to beat. It’s at parentingteendrivers.com.

The Web site is free and run by Dale Wisely, a clinical psychologist who practiced child and adolescent psychology and heads the student services department of a public school system. He knows kids!

E.D. Hill is a FOX News Channel host and author of "I'm Not Your Friend, I'm Your Parent." She has eight children. Click here to read more about E.D.'s new book.